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ung woman who is deliberating about what research to conduct for her doctoral dissertation. The year is 1982. Classroom technology consists of a few laser discs, film projectors, slide projectors, and a wonderful new device called the overhead projector. Tests are still run off of the mimeograph machine with the purple ink that smells so good. High-tech individuals have boom boxes, cassette players, big boxy televisions and Kodak cameras. Home films are taken with heavy, unwieldy video cameras still using super 8 mm film with the newest ones accommodating the newest thing—VHS tapes. To have data analyzed, keycards are coded, punched and run through a mainframe computer. A few individual desktop computers exist, but they are large, bulky, and just a step above an electric typewriter.
Even so, there are visionaries at Mississippi ETV in Jackson MS who think math instruction for elementary students can be enhanced through video. They believe it so strongly that money is spent to produce a series of math lessons called ‘Figure Out,’ featuring a talking, teaching computer named Mac and real life kids. But they need someone to conduct a research project to test its effectiveness with students before the decision can be made to produce the full series to be featured as a weekly ETV series. So, a contest of sorts is launched. A Mississippi ETV Researcher’s Award gives the best proposal a $1000 grant to be used for the project.
Enters a single parent/ elementary and junior high math teacher/education doc student who loves teaching math and technology and needs all the financial assistance she can find. She writes a proposal that is at first rejected by one of the members of her dissertation committee who believes that the grad student is an advocate for replacing teachers with videos. The other committee members intervene and allow the student to proceed. The student submits the proposal to Mississippi ETV with the goal of conducting an empirical investigation using three groups of fifth graders (a control group and two experimental groups), five different video lessons, in five different Mississippi schools. The proposal wins the monetary award, and the research study is launched.
For the sake of brevity, let’s cut through to the chase. After data analysis using Analysis of Covariance (ANACOVA), the study concludes that experimental group #1 that received video-enhanced instruction from the doc student outperformed the other two groups— experimental group #2 that received video instruction only and the group #3 the control group that received instruction only from the doc student. Even though the scores in all five schools for experimental group #1 consistently scored higher, the scores are not statistically significant. However, when the qualitative analysis is performed on student surveys, the students in experimental group #1 are the most satisfied with the instruction.
Because the scores are not statistically significant, the ‘Figure Out’ project is scrapped despite the qualitative benefits.
The doc student is devastated. ‘Figure Out’ is the most creative, effective math program she has ever seen. She loves teaching with it. It explains things in a different way and has students glued to the screen. Even though she considers herself to be an excellent, enthusiastic, energetic teacher, the video characters breathe new life into math instruction. Now, it is not going to be produced because of her study.
Speed forward to the year 2002. Another Mississippi futurist wants to produce a video-based algebra program. He needs a director. Even though now a tenured professor at a university, the former grad student hears of the opportunity, applies for the job, interviews, is offered the position, accepts the offer giving up her tenured track position. Why such a risk? Because she still believes in the power of technology in education and wants a chance to continue where she left off 20 years earlier. The result? Two DVD-based math programs containing 173 lessons covering the five math standards, winners of 14 national awards with a longitudinal research study that concludes that students who receive video-enhanced instruction achieve higher on the end-of-the-year algebra exams and are more satisfied with the instruction than their counterparts who received the typical textbook-based instruction from the same teacher.
What can we learn from this? We must reach our students where they are, teach them from their own learning base, and engage them. As technology advances, instruction must adapt to keep students excited about learning, motivated, involved. We must keep searching for the most effective tools, software, programs and apps that can be used to enhance instruction, increase achievement, and prepare our kids for the demands of the 21st century workplace. No longer can we say “that is not the way I was taught,” or “there is no place for technology in learning math,” or “I am not going to give into providing entertainment for my child as s/he is learning math.” Instead of being inflexible and afraid of the new frontier that is ahead of us, let’s find the most effective way to reach our kids, instill a love for learning and math, and help them succeed.