When running for school board, one question was asked a number of times, especially in the debates and usually asked by students, “How will we provide more teacher/student interaction?” I assumed that students wanted a more personal experience in their learning until an article last week made me realize that a lot more was behind this question. The BBC News wrote, “Secondary school pupils are so scared of looking stupid in maths lessons they will not tell their teachers if they do not understand, suggests research.” The article continued, “The reasons pupils gave for not asking for help more often were that they were worried about looking foolish, were embarrassed or did not want to draw attention to themselves.” In other words, they lack confidence, which could be overcome if teachers had the time to spend more one-on-one with their students.
Are there other ways to build a student’s confidence in math?
Well, hiring a tutor helps. A good tutor. And teachers are great tutors. But tutors are expensive.
As we discussed in a previous blog, games can make math fun, which in turn can increase skills and build confidence.
A mother explained in Four Things a Parent Could Do To Help a Struggling Student that she thought Khan Academy would be fun for her son and he might find the points system and accumulation of badges motivating. She was right. “Before he knew it, an hour had passed and he was still interested in the exercises. More importantly, he was not getting frustrated if he got something wrong like he does in class or during homework. He wanted those points and, by golly, he was going to get them.”
The Elevated Math iPad app is not a game, but it’s fun. With ten million dollars invested in the lessons, we had to place a nominal price on them. But if parents can afford the cost of a small cup of coffee, they can afford a lesson for their child that not only builds math skills but also solidifies understanding of critical math concepts. More skills? Understanding? How can this not increase confidence?
But though we love what Elevated Math (and Khan Academy) accomplishes, nothing replaces a teacher who can recognize students’ strengths and nurture them through their weaknesses. So how do we free up teachers so they can spend more individual time with their students?
I was talking to a mother the other day who is looking for a school for her daughter. One private girls’ school she visited explained that all their math classes were flipped.
“Because this produces high achievement,” I said knowingly.
“No,” the mother answered. The reason floored me. The math teachers found they were not completing their lessons during class time because the girls were always raising their hands and asking questions. The flipped classroom became a viable solution for this school.
In a typical co-ed math classroom boys usually are more assertive when it comes to asking and answering questions; girls are more likely to refrain from asking questions for a variety of reasons. The girls’ school previously described prides itself in allowing girls to express themselves in class. As a result, the girls in this all-girls school seemed to have too much confidence if that could be possible.
Flipped classrooms do help build confidence. If students don’t get the instructional video with the first viewing, they can review the video again. Or they can ask a friend to explain it. Or show the video to their parents for help. If none of these steps explain the concept, students can confidently strut into class knowing that the problem lies not in their lack of understanding but in their teacher’s explanation.
Our educational system is in crisis mode. Last week Los Angeles Unified announced that 11,000 preliminary pink slips are to be issued, and teacher job satisfaction is plummeting. It sounds as if not only the students need confidence, but also the teachers. In the college class I teach the greatest satisfaction comes when I work one-on-one with a student. More teacher/student interaction could be a solution that helps everyone.