EdTech That Helps Teachers Differentiate Complex Material

February 2, 2019

Glenda Bingle is a middle school math teacher in North Carolina.  

Middle school math is where things start to get tough. This is around the time in a child’s education where parents can no longer help out with math homework. I know very few parents (besides fellow math teachers!) who remember all the steps involved in simplifying an equation. And for good reason; this stuff is hard and most adults are not required to practice equation balancing often in their daily lives.

In middle school, concepts start to build on each other to form new, complex material. Since the concepts are all connected to each other, mastery of lower-level ideas is critical before students can move on to the next unit. Many middle school teachers address this by embracing ‘scaffolding’, or breaking ideas up into little pieces and tackling each piece one by one. Scaffolding helps kids feel less daunted by challenging problems.

I started using ASSISTments in Fall of 2018. Since then, I have found that ASSISTments helps me in a variety of ways to teach complex material. One of the most effective tools to help me teach complex materials is the ASSISTments Item reports.

The Item Report allows me to identify questions on which students struggled. I have adopted a homework review strategy of assigning each question to a different group of students after discussing common wrong answers.

Within these groups, students work together to solve the problem correctly. By working together, the students figure out on what part of the question they are getting stuck. The students in one of my homework groups recently discovered that they were all getting tripped up while combining terms. By working together and discussing the problem out loud, the group was able to identify exactly where they needed help. I was able to step in and clarify the steps involved in combining terms.

Oftentimes, my students will raise their hand and enthusiastically explain to me why they answered problem three incorrectly. By learning what they did wrong, mistakes are transformed into learning opportunities in my class.

During the homework review group sessions, I walk around the room and check-in with different groups. When the students finish, I facilitate a student-led class discussion using  probing questions about correct answers and common mistakes that occurred while completing the assignment. Last week while reviewing an assignment about adding fractions, my students led the discussion of what mistakes they may have made on their homework. I felt reassured knowing my kids were engaged and that the review session was directly addressing what they found confusing.

I have really enjoyed including ASSISTments in my classroom. This system has changed many aspects of the classroom, but most importantly, homework review goes much more smoothly. By having students practice identifying and understanding the common mistakes in student solutions, I am using ASSISTments to help students develop a deeper understanding of complex material.


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