Lori spent most of her days in my eighth grade pre-algebra class fooling around. She had very limited English and after years of falling further and further behind in math, she thought she was incapable of doing it. I knew that I needed to a new strategy to help Lori and students like her who struggle with math. My solution was Bootstrap Algebra, which applies mathematical concepts and rigorous programming principles to creating a simple videogame. I paired the students up so that no one was alone in their new venture. We started with very basic programming. Lori’s partner Gabby, who also struggled with math, but was very interested in the idea of making a video game, said, “See it’s not that tough! We can do this!”
As a teacher, I am always in search of alternate ways to help the kids who believe they can’t do math. The secret is for my students to feel that they have some choice and get to do what they are interested in. With Bootstrap Algebra students who spend so much time playing video games get to see all the work that goes into making them. At first, I was unsure if I could teach the programming portion of the curriculum and I worried if my students would actually learn. I also worried if the English language learners in my class will be able to comprehend it. My first time teaching it I literally went step by step with the programming portion, and even read some verbatim from the lesson plans. After teaching it one time through, I was at ease. I still tell the kids I’m no expert in the programming portion, but I can handle it.
The process of Bootstrap Algebra is not easy. First, Lori and Gabby had to lean the basic language of the program. We practiced and I let them play around and explore. As they got various error messages, they learned how to debug the program. Next, Lori and Gabby figured out how to solve the order of operational problems and learned the language for proper coding. When they finally got the hang of it, and I told them they now had the right order of operations, they were in disbelief. After more practice, they learned to decode word problems, and turn them into code to make their very own video games.
After finishing their project, Gabby and Lori helped others who were still troubleshooting bugs in their code. Not only were they confident enough to complete their own game, but they were confident enough to be willing to help others. And best of all, Lori loved an assignment that had to do with math.
Here are a few tips on how to get your students more interested in math.
Be patient and keep trying. Lack of success does not mean failure. There is not one right or wrong answer for what will or will not work. The right thing will not fall right into your lap. But when you find that thing which connects to your students, the results are amazing. Many unsuccessful attempts can make you feel discouraged, but when it does work, the smiles on the kids’ faces make it all worth it.
Practice before doing with your students. If you are not sure what you are doing, you may get frustrated and that will deter the students from getting excited or even be willing to try. If they think it is hard for you, they will believe it is too hard for them and not even want to try.
Be enthusiastic! When the students see that you’re excited, that has a great buy in power! Enthusiasm is contagious. Students are much more willing to get excited when they can see the genuine enthusiasm that you put forth.
I am always doing everything I can to reinvent myself. I try to take every opportunity to learn new things to teach my students. Today, there are so many new cutting-edge ideas that can benefit our students and help them become more successful in their future. It is our job as educators to do everything we can to help them receive the tools they need to get ahead in life – including developing a liking for math.
Lisa Biswas is an 9th grade algebra teacher at Hope High School in Providence, Rhode Island and a Teach Plus Rhode Island Teaching Policy Fellow