Research for Personalized Learning
Driving Question: How can GAFE be used to personalize learning & increase students' math skills?
Educators of the 21st Century are working hard to adapt their teaching to meet the needs of ALL of their students. But how? With a limited amount of technology, and/or limited training, teachers can feel stuck, confused, and lost. This study focused on a class of 31 fourth graders, the question: How can GAFE be used to personalize learning & increase students' math skills? Assessments were given before and after the study was implemented. A variety of iPad apps were used in order to provide choice for students, as well as differentiation. In addition, GAFE was introduced into the classroom in order to provide 21st century skills for the students.
Keywords: Technology, Elementary, Math, Personalization, iPad, Apps
Background and Need:
Educators need to shift a focus to ensure that their students are fully comprehending the math curriculum taught. From elementary to middle school, each year of math builds upon the previous year. This makes it so important for students to not fall behind, because each year that goes by makes it harder and harder to college.
In addition, math knowledge is vital as students enter high school, college, and even post-graduate opportunities. Math skills are “in fact a component of most jobs in our increasingly technological society” (Stone III, Alfield, & Pearson, 2008, p. 768). Even though math skills are so vital to everyday life, many students miss out on opportunities to learn these skills due to teacher-centered lessons that are not engaging or even accessible to all students. Teaching whole class all of the time can make students feel disconnected because “students really need to feel that they’re being supported by teachers; A student who doesn’t feel supported becomes disengaged” (Fensterwald, Harrington, Leal, Tully, 2015, p.1). Teachers need to be teaching these vital math skills in a student-centered way.
In addition to math skills, students need technology skills now more than ever. As we shift into the 21st century, we need to prepare our students for our evolving world and culture. Current students must be able to “search and discover knowledge, actively communicate with others, and solve problems so that they can become productive life-long members of our society” (Bittner and Bittner, 2002, p.97). Technology is a wonderful aide to help students learn those necessary skills. In addition, students in the 21st century need to be familiar with technology and how to use it as a tool. Bitner and Bittner’s article states that what is needed for future jobs will change even before our current students graduate high school. Much of this is due to technology, the huge advances we have made in the last few years, and the strides expected to be made in the future.
Technology skills are important for our students’ futures, but also in order to close educational gaps in each classroom. Technology allows for easy differentiation amongst students, whether it be different apps used for different students. or simply adjusting the game design to match the needs of the student (Katz, Jaeggi, Buschkuehl, Stegman, Shah, 2014, p.1). In addition, technology can help correct student misconceptions. Without “corrective feedback, the learner likely exits an examination assuming that an incorrect response was actually correct; thus, an examination that does not employ feedback may promote misconceptions” (Epstein, Lazarus, Calvano, Matthews, Hendel, Epstein, Brosvic, 2002 p. 188). Therefore, completing math of an iPad can provide immediate feedback on whether or not an answer is correct.
The purpose of this project was to investigate how to increase differentiation of instruction to fourth grade students in order to deepen their math skills. This literature review addresses differentiation in math instruction and the use of technology in order to increase student engagement and deepen students’ math skills. The first section addresses research about personalization, differentiation, and individualization. The second section focuses on brain based learning in the classroom. Lastly, the third section will focus on the role of technology in education.
Personalization, Differentiation, and Individualization
Bray and McClasky (2014) looked into personalization, differentiation, and individualization, and research how they are similar, but more importantly, how each of them are different. The following image is a toolkit created by Bray, in order to help teachers better personalize their teaching for their students. Personalization involves “assessment AS learning, FOR learning, and a minimal OF learning. This is where teachers develop capacity so learners become independent learners who set goals, monitor progress, and reflect on learning. Assessments are based on mastery” (Bray & McClasky, 2014, para. 3). It is clear to see that personalization is student centered, while differentiation and individualization are teacher centered.
On the other hand, Tomlinson (2001) studied differentiation in the classroom. While it does have similarities with personalization, there are many other aspects that set it apart. Tomlinson (2001) noted that while differentiation and its management is not always easy, it tends to be a better fit for the students, and teaching can become more satisfying (p.32). In a classroom with differentiated instruction, “the teacher assumes that different learners have differing needs”, and fine-tuning a lesson to meet the needs of a particular students can also “provide an appropriate fit for many learners.” (Tomlinson, 2001, p. 3-4). In addition, differentiation involves lessons and assignments focused on quality and not quantity, and the instruction is guided by constant formal and informal assessments (Tomlinson, 2001, p. 4-5). Differentiation is a great fit for any teacher with a mixed-ability classroom.
Lastly, Bray and McClasky (2014) compared personalization and differentiation with the individualization of learning in the classroom. While many researchers and educators might consider differentiation and individualization to be very similar, and might even use the terms interchangeably, this is not the case. Bray and McClasky (2014) point out that while differentiation and individualization are both teacher centered, they vary in several ways. For example, differentiation focuses more on groups of students, and their needs for specific content areas. On the other hand, individualization of a student begins with an evaluation of the student needs, and the the teacher researches how best to adapt to fit the need of that specific student.
Brain Based Learning
When considering adding technology and math games into the classroom, it is good to look at the background of brain-based learning in the classroom, and why it is done. Brain-based learning is “an idea that honors long-established cognitive and psychological research findings as well as the recent discoveries in neuroscience (i. e., the study of the brain and nervous system) that prove the interconnectivity of the body, mind, and brain” (McCall, 2012, p. 42). Environmental stressors decrease students’ ability to learn, but teaching in a way that connects the brain to the environment can increase learning. McCall found that incorporating drama, exercise, celebrations, graphic organizers, field trips, construction activities, dialogue, and collaboration are just a few of the ways to try brain-based learning in the classroom (2012 p.42-43). While teachers need to be aware that there is still much to learn about the brain, and need to stay on top of the latest brain research, brain-based learning is a great way to connect to each students in today's diverse classrooms.
Role of Technology in the Classroom
Carr (2012) studied the impact on mathematics achievement when students are able to use iPads (p. 269). She studied a total of 104 5th grade students from two different elementary schools. Several teachers participated in the study, and pre and post-tests were given to both the control group and the experimental group. During mathematics lessons, students were able to use iPads to support their learning. The results of the study showed that the use of iPads in the classroom “were not meaningful enough to significantly influence students’ mathematics achievement” (Carr, 2012, p. 278). This was thought to be partly due to their short experiment timeframe - only one quarter of a school year. Results might be different given a longer time to research.
Another study focused on putting a few iPads into a kindergarten class in order to see how it could help improve their skills of handling money. While each classroom only had 5 iPads, it was clear that not having a class set did not hinder these teachers from trying to use technology in their teaching and lessons. Bennett (2011-2012) found that students were more engaged and on task (pg. 25). In addition, using iPads “is so intuitive that even kindergarten students need little or no instruction on how to manipulate the device” (Bennett, 2011-2012, pg. 23). This is great news for students and teachers alike!
It is clear that many educators have attempted to add differentiation, brain-based learning, and technology into their teachings. It is also true that many researchers have studied and verified the importance of each of these areas in the classroom. This study is vital to do, as it combines each of these three areas. This study will learn from studies done prior, and will combine personalization, brain-based learning, as well as technology incorporated into the math lessons.
Read more by clicking on my link to my research paper at the top of the "Inspiration" page.