Middle school math classes have worked in much the same way for decades. Teachers send students home with a textbook and a set of problems. Students work out the solutions on paper and bring the answers in the next day. That changed at about 40 Maine schools, where students, mostly seventh-graders, tested out ASSISTments. ASSISTments is a computer program that gives students automatic feedback on homework answers by telling them whether they’re right or wrong and updates the teachers on their progress.
A prime example of “formative assessment,” ASSISTments allows teachers to observe student performance and adjust their teaching plan or techniques to help students better retain the material.
The researchers decided to conduct this study in Maine largely thanks to the laptop program started by former Gov. Angus King. “Laptops should allow students to do more than research and make PowerPoint presentations,” says Neil Heffernan, ASSISTments founder. “The laptop is just a tool, he said, and schools need practical uses and programs to make them valuable for students.”