Image by Amy Hirschi
Almost a month ago, at the kick-off event of the Impact EdTech piloting phase, we met the three European teachers that are testing the e-learning tool Bolster Academy in their math class for two full months. The Impact EdTech project is an incubator program for tech startups involved in education that we have the privilege to be part of. The piloting phase involves us being matched up with three schools from three different European countries who are interested in using our tool in their classroom as well as keen to help us fine-tune our product.
I could not be luckier and happier with the assigned teachers. Dedicated, curious, and motivated, these teachers are committed to making the best out of this experience.
Trying Bolster Academy for the first time seems exciting and hopeful for the range of diverse challenges that these teachers are facing nowadays. As we all know, in terms of education, the Corona health-crisis brought a variety of difficulties and problems not only to the teachers but also to their students at every age. The learning gap for the students that didn’t enjoy math got bigger and the time resources for teachers narrowed. In times when remote/hybrid/blended teaching is the normal, it seems harder to motivate the left-behind students while, at the same time, keep challenging the ones that seem to be two steps ahead. Now is the time to innovate as a teacher, as a school, as a student and try out what technology can offer. Finding a suitable digital tool might be like finding the jackpot that helps with not only the current corona related difficulties in education but even the old ones carried out from pre-corona times.
I feel inspired by these teachers and by the fact that they are willing to explore alternative solutions for the posed problems. With an open mindset, they are challenging the status quo not only in their schools but in math education in general.
One of the teachers used Bolster Academy with their Spanish speaking students last week for the first time. He has a diverse class including students that joined his school only this year. He is planning to use Bolster Academy to perform diagnostic tests to identify students who might need extra practice on certain topics. I enjoyed listening to him reflecting on his first individual and collective experience with his students who seemed to be ``having fun while learning math.” Given that Bolster Academy’s content and platform is in English, it was good to hear that language seems not to be too much of a barrier when learning mathematics. Mathematics seems to be almost like a universal language, and, if problems arise, automated browser translations can come to the rescue ;).
The other two teachers had their first session this week. One teacher is teaching an advanced math course for scientifically minded students in the last year of highschool. The math problems in the final math exam that her students need to solve are rather complex and involve many mathematical concepts at once. She observed that her students are good at getting the general picture of the large problems they needed to solve, but that most of their mistakes came from the in-between step-by-step processes involved. For instance, errors in algebraic manipulation, mismatch in analytic reasoning steps, or mistakes in their calculations. To increase her students’ competencies in these step-by-step processes, she plans to do weekly remedial assignments tailored for each group of students who are making similar mistakes. This way, her students can have tons of practice material before their final exam.
Our third teacher is planning to use Bolster Academy’s content as a digital textbook and give weekly assignments on the covered topics. She is facing the difficult task of teaching mostly remotely and to a group that seems unmotivated with respect to learning math. As a first improvement, already switching from a regular textbook to a digital tool seems an exciting novelty for her students. This simple change might cause them to feel more excited when it comes to learning math. So using the e-learning tool as a support teaching system in such a situation is of great help for her.
Overall, I was happy to receive messages like “It went great!” and “The students seem to enjoy using the tool for solving exercises.” I am curious how these two months will evolve. I know that not all the time will be as smooth as it has been so far, at the end of the day using a new tool in a new environment always comes with unexpected challenges. But then again, where would the fun be without any challenges at all?