Motivating students to want to learn math is a challenge many teachers face on a daily basis. As a teacher for a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating opportunities for at-risk children, I am challenged to instruct those students deemed unreachable. Integrating technology into the classroom was the carrot I needed not only to motivate, but also to reach the unreachable.

My students are placed with Holy Family Institute by the courts for reasons of abuse or neglect or are referred by schools because they have significant emotional and behavioral problems. I teach a multi-age classroom. Many of my students have never excelled at school. In fact, most are working significantly below grade level. Some have even built a wall of defiance that completely interferes with their ability to learn.

With a classroom this diverse, I needed a technology that was not only extremely adaptable and flexible, but also provided me a way to customize each student’s independent learning path and motivate each to learn math and build self confidence. After reviewing a number of technology solutions, I decided that Apangea Learning’s SmartHelp best met the needs of my students.

Merging Two Technologies
In the computer lab, Holy Family Institute implemented NetOP to allow me to monitor what content was being viewed on all 24 computers and provide me with the ability to take control of any computer and close down inappropriate sites.

SmartHelp provides my students great feedback as they work through problems. However, my students can become easily frustrated and often act out. I was faced with a major challenge: I not only needed to monitor the activity of all my students, but I also needed a way to provide personalized instruction to my students needing additional help.

I pressed our IT department to figure out a way to marry NetOP and SmartHelp. My perseverance paid off, and integrating the two technologies provided the perfect solution to my dilemma. I can now monitor an entire class while providing individualized instruction. And it has saved me from running around from desk to desk, improving my response time in helping students by at least 75%.

I can take over any student’s mouse and explain to them what they need to be looking at or where they need to click next to find information. I then give them back the control and watch to make sure they understand the concept or directions I gave them. This also helps with my students who have personal space issues from past problems of abuse because I don’t have to hover over them. From my central position I can monitor the rest of the class to make sure that behaviors are not out of control.

Additionally, students sitting right next to each other never know if the other is asking for help. Students can get the help they need without having to look vulnerable to the rest of the class. As a result, students have begun to break down the walls they built up, and they now feel comfortable asking me for help.

Helping Students Succeed in Math
SmartHelp’s math content is based on state academic standards and on student grade and performance levels. The program allows me to customize each student’s learning pathway and even make changes to it on the fly. I am able to tailor its content, level of difficulty, and even the amount of help my student receives so that true individualized instruction is possible.

SmartHelp provides my students a one-student-to-one-teacher differentiated learning experience through a unique tutoring model that integrates proprietary tutoring technology and live, online certified teachers. Initially, my students received instant support and guidance from its computeranimated learning coaches. If they required more specific help, they received individualized assistance in real-time from Apangea Learning’s live, online certified teachers who would communicate with them through interactive voice, chat, and electronic whiteboard technology.

Additionally, this system provides a number of administrative tools that keep me informed of which students need help and with which skills. Most importantly, it always addresses the specific learning needs for each student.

During my 14 years of teaching, I have found that many students aren’t engaged because they can’t conceptually work through a problem. They struggle to read a problem and decipher what is important and how to apply it. Smart- Help teaches my students problem solving skills. SmartHelp gives them a new way to look at solving math by teaching them a five-step problem-solving process that helps them break down any problem into manageable steps. Each time students work through a problem, this process is reinforced and it chips away at the walls they have built. It stresses a skill set that can be used to address many different types of problems encountered inside and outside of the classroom.

When students complete a math lesson or even a module, it reinforces that they can do it, and it builds self-pride and confidence. One of my students last year taught himself advanced math concepts through SmartHelp. He was successfully working through problems on material he had never done or seen in a classroom or textbook.

Similarly, many of my students have never been rewarded or even praised for doing well in school. It has been very interesting to observe how SmartHelp’s new motivation system has engaged my students and made them want to learn and work through math modules. Because of the rewards provided, they actually see tangible results that correlate to their effort.

Perhaps a student said it best: “Math is a lot cooler if you can learn it on a computer.” I think that I would have to agree.

—Scott Huffmyer is coordinator of Computer Assisted Instruction at Holy Family Learning in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Copyright © 2008, ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education), 1.800.336.5191 (U.S. & Canada) or 1.541.302.3777 (Int’l),, All rights reserved.

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