Creating Solutions for Middle Schools
There are many opportunities to create solutions, here are a few ideas for where you can start:
1. For students: make it relevant and experiential
Most kids love visuals, stories and tactile experiences. Math just for the sake of math doesn’t quite cut it. But when they see a link to their own lives, they can really get into it.
2. For teachers: support teachers with ways to meet individual students’ needs
You’ve probably understood this point by now: being a teacher is hard, because you can’t easily respond to 29 individual kids with diverse individual needs. Some need encouragement, others discipline, some need to be challenged and want to compete, while others find success in repeating the same task over and over again. And teachers care so much about each student, whatever can make it easier to teach them individually will make a big difference.
3. For students: enable student collaboration across different abilities
Group work is great, not just for math learning, but also because it builds social competency, and friendships. It can be challenging, though, when kids have very different capabilities. Tools that let them work together across skill levels help. If they can learn from each other: even better.
4. For teachers: help teachers provide students with meaningful feedback
Test scores can be useful feedback on progress, but they don’t always make clear what’s missing. To close any gap, students need to know what that gap is, need encouragement (and strategies) along the way, and need to see progress to stay motivated. That’s meaningful feedback. And teachers need to know how to best support their students in real time.
5. For teachers: remember that teachers’ needs go beyond the lessons themselves – they are looking for help connecting with and and learning from one another.
Many teachers work in isolation, with little sense of community to help one another solve problems inside and outside the classroom. And most teacher community apps put all the emphasis on digital forms of community, which feels unnatural in light of the face-to-face interactions teachers know well. This is especially true for teachers who are reluctant to embrace technology, or don’t feel as savvy as some of their colleagues. Useful bridges into the real world are what teachers need.
A few more words of wisdom to keep in mind…
1. Provide multiple ways for students to engage.
Middle school students are in the midst of huge personal development, and that impacts how they learn, and listen. One student might love challenging competition, while another one just wants to repeat the same problem until they’ve figured it out. Some want small problems, others love lengthy and complex tasks. The solution? Not one, but many. Dig into the entire treasure chest of methods, whether that’s visuals, physical experiences, games or a written test.
2. Do the same for teachers.
Similarly, for teachers, there are many different levels of experience. Some have been teaching for a long time and have a large arsenal of ideas, but little motivation to research new methods. Some teachers are very new to teaching and hungry for new ideas to try in their classes, but lack the knowledge of what “good” solutions look like. Some teachers actively invent novel ways to address the gaps, but don’t have a way to be recognized or to share their ideas. And others get so far behind teaching elementary math skills that they don’t know how to catch up. Again, there are many possible solutions – one size won’t fit all.
3. Keep it simple. Super simple.
The most limited resource in schools is time. Teachers are always busy and time constrained, and have a hard enough time finding and integrating new tools. If it takes them a while to learn how a tool works, they won’t bother, often because the only time they have to learn is their free time. Keep. It. Simple.
4. Just because it’s an app doesn’t mean that the experience lives only on the screen.
All too often, apps assume an entirely digital experience that students or teachers use in isolation. Sometimes, that’s the best solution. But keep in mind that apps can inspire in-person collaboration between students themselves, between students and teachers or even between teachers. Also think about how digital experiences can trigger physical ones, like acting something out or building something tangible.
5. An app will likely live in the classroom.
Sure, mobile technology is widespread, but particularly those kids that are behind in their learning often don’t have access to a smartphone, a tablet or a computer with internet access at their home. If you want to count on technology in some form, the most likely place to look is in the school. So apps are great tools for learning in classroom, and teachers can play an active role in facilitating them.
So good luck – there are many students and teachers who will benefit from your work.