"Tap into Teen Minds with iPads" Helps Students Excel in Math

Blog Post created by teachontarioteam on May 1, 2015


In this installment of TeachOntario Talks we are profiling and celebrating the “Tap into Teen Minds with iPads” project from teacher Kyle Pearce. Kyle is both a teacher at Tecumseh Vista Academy K-12, and an instructional coach serving the Greater Essex County District School Board in southwestern Ontario.


When Kyle Pearce first began teaching Grade 11 college and workplace Math in 2006, it was clear from the start that the traditional blackboard lesson-practice-and-memorize approach just wasn't going to engage his students.


“When teaching any course where students have typically struggled with the subject throughout their lives, it doesn't take long before you realize the conventional approach to teaching that subject will not be effective,” says Pearce, who is now secondary Department Head of Mathematics at Tecumseh Vista Academy K-12, and an Instructional Coach in southwestern Ontario. "It is common to encounter behavioural issues, inconsistent attendance habits, and an unwillingness to complete tasks if efforts are not made to make Math more engaging."


So Pearce found himself a data projector and PowerPoint software -- and later SMART Board Notebook technologies -- and began his journey toward captivating teen minds.



How Kyle Turned Teens onto Math


Pearce's aim was to make Math tasks contextual, visual and concrete, while intentionally modeling the interconnectedness of Mathematics. “The key is to help kids visualize Math so they can develop a deeper understanding and improve their Math retention,” he says. The students responded well to the digital approach, prompting Pearce to take the use of technology in his classroom to the next level.


In 2010 he applied for an Ontario TLLP (Teacher Learning and Leadership Program) grant to develop his project “Tap into Teen Minds with iPads.” The goal of the project was to determine if the use of iPad technology would:


  • increase engagement and student perception of learning Mathematics;
  • improve student achievement in Mathematics; and
  • cost less than the digital interactive whiteboards that were currently in his Mathematics classrooms.

TITM_chart_525x393.jpgAfter just one five-month semester using iPads to support learning in Mathematics during the 2011-2012 school year, Pearce noted marked increases in student engagement, perception and overall success in Math.


Using a survey conducted with Google Forms, which students took before and after taking the class that focused on student perceptions of Math,  and that was based on the questions found in the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO)’s  province-wide standardized student assessment questionnaire, the percentage of students who agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “I am good at Math” rose from 62.5% to 78.6%--a remarkable 16.1%. The percentage of kids reporting they “understand most of the Mathematics I am taught” rose more than 16% (from 75% to 91.1% of students), the percentage saying that “Math is easy” rose 12.5% (from 42.9% to 55.4%) and the percentage saying they are able to answer difficult Math questions rose almost 20% (from 44.6% to 63.4%).


Equally remarkable, after one year of the digital Math classes, 47% of Grade 9 academic and applied Math students who did not meet the standard in the Grade 47%_new_box.jpg6 EQAO provincial standardized assessment rose to meet the provincial standard. An additional 37% of students who did meet the provincial standard in the Grade 6 EQAO assessment also continued to meet the standard in Grade 9.


“These students performed extremely well in comparison with our school district and the rest of the province,” he says.


"It feels great to see your students finally building confidence in a subject area that has caused them so much grief in the past," he says. "More importantly, what it tells me is that learning Math is less about the technology and more about finding ways to empower students to break down the belief they cannot be successful learning Mathematics. If students change their mindset from a fixed mindset that believes they cannot learn Math, to a growth mindset with the true belief that everyone can develop a deep understanding of Math, then the job becomes easy."


Meanwhile, the paperless approach of the digital classes also proved to be more cost-effective than purchasing the many additional tools that had been bought to enhance classrooms with interactive whiteboards, Pearce says.


Taking Math FurtherDoritosRoulette_208x328.jpg


Tapping into Teen Minds isn’t just about taking Math into the digital domain. Pearce is also passionate about creating Dan Meyer-style three-act Math tasks to further engage students through curiosity. “I’m exploring new ways to harness student creativity, gamifying the assessment process, and publishing student work to a global audience to promote student ownership of their learning,” he says.


Pearce’s Doritos Roulette: Hot or Not? three-act Math task is one such example of gamifying, digitalizing and visualizing the learning. It’s based on the Doritos brand of chip that contains a ‘hot to not’ chip ratio of 1:6 or 1:7. Students learn about probability, expected value, ratios, fractions and proportions as they try to figure out how many of the chips in the bag are super-hot. Pearce plays students a video about the ‘game’ in the first act, and the fun – and the learning – continues from there. While Pearce didn't actually have bags of the chips in class for the kids to eat, this real-world, fun and relatable task was enough to engage the students.


Some of the many iPad apps he’s used in the Math classroom include Dragonbox Algebra, an engaging game that introduces the concepts of solving equations intuitively, Desmos, a free online graphing calculator and interactive Mathematics learning tool, and Algebra Touch, which teaches rules of Algebra in a fun, interactive way. Pearce also uses Google Apps for Education (GAFE) in his classroom.


His current work is dedicated to transforming Math education by making tasks contextual, visual and concrete while using a spiraled approach to addressing curriculum content through a four-part Math lesson framework, he says. His four-part approach is an expansion on John A. Van de Walle’s three-part lesson, adding an inquiry/discovery step after the first step Minds On (getting learners mentally ready to learn) and before steps 3 and 4, which are Making Connections and Consolidation.


Through this work Pearce has also expanded his digital teaching knowledge, leading to certifications, including Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE), Apple Education Trainer (APD) and Google Certified Teacher (GCT), following his attendance at the Google Teacher Academy (GTA) in Austin, Texas. In addition to serving on the Apple Distinguished Educator Advisory Board, Pearce also works as a professional development keynote speaker, doing workshops and presentations in effective teaching practices in Math and transformative uses of technology across North America. Within his school, Pearce teaches Grade 9 applied Math and learns with Grade 7-10 Math teachers in his role as the Middle Years Collaborative Inquiry (MYCI) Instructional Coach across his district.


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