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Instituto Francés La Salle
50+ per year
Course instructors: Olivia Vallejo Rodríguez and Gerardo Alejandro Gonzalez Adame
Teaching: Algebra and Applications, Analytic Geometry, Trigonometry, Differential Calculus and Integral Calculus
The Instituto Francés La Salle is an innovative high school located in La Laguna, Mexico. As part of the La Salle educational community, they provide their students with a creative, integral, modern, and future-oriented educational model while developing their personal and academic skills.
Olivia (Oly) Vallejo Rodríguez is a high school mathematics teacher at Instituto Francés La Salle, and Gerardo Alejandro Gonzalez Adame is the STEAM Coordinator.
Before implementing our digital tool, Oly and Gerardo faced three main challenges when teaching math to high school students. In Gerardo’s words:
Firstly, from the teachers’ perspective, generating personalized material tailored to everyone is very hard. From the student’s side, it’s also difficult to get individualized online support. Therefore, a personalized evaluation and support resource has a priceless value. On the other hand, having a user-friendly platform is the key for both teachers and students. There are multiple digital tools, but this last requirement is not easy to meet.
The technological aspect was relevant because they were looking for a sustainable solution to adapt the course to a classroom with different math proficiency levels. So everybody can feel challenged and improve their skills according to their particular needs.
Additionally, as Oly added, another critical requirement for them is that they have to follow the rules that a governmental agency, the DGB (Dirección General del Bachillerato), gives them. This organization regulates every educational institution at the high school level. Since the DGB sets up parameters like the goals the students need to achieve and the topics they should learn, it was vital for La Salle teachers to find the right tool to prepare their course material.
At the beginning of their journey with Bolster Academy, Oly and Gerardo had to make some adaptations so every student could use a computer for their math course. In this case, the fact that the youngest students are 14-15 years old complicates this process. Most of our courses are for university and college levels, so some adjustments were necessary.
The implementation was very successful after a short initial trial and error process. As Oly remembers:
We adapted ourselves pretty well. The students began to play. Because that was my instruction, “I need you to start playing with the platform”. “Click here, make a mistake, go back”. “If you can’t solve it yet, send me a screenshot with your answer.” But, we had to play before getting results.
We find playing an exciting concept for mathematics because this subject usually generates rejection among most high school students. Luckily, our digital platform can help change students’ attitudes toward math. Gerardo gives us this example:
Two years ago, we conducted a survey on the perception of mathematics in a primary school group. Last year, we conducted a study on this topic, including the high school level. There was a significant change in students who liked mathematics and did not consider it complicated. One of the elements that I think had an influence was the use of the platform, and other things we did at school also had an impact.
I think it is an outstanding achievement to change the student’s perception, so they believe that mathematics is not complicated, and in fact, it is not. I think this is a noteworthy advance, and it would be worth repeating this exercise to realize if we are improving in that sense. If you don’t like the subject, you already have to face an obstacle. If we change the student’s perception, we will achieve better performance, which counts greatly.
One of the reasons that might be behind Bolster Academy’s contribution to this attitudinal change is our personalized feedback. As Oly expresses:
There is something I love about the platform. When the students solve a problem, it says, “Great!", “Nicely done!” below. Maybe it’s just a little phrase that would seem irrelevant, but it’s very cool for them to receive that encouragement.
Another crucial factor in maximizing student engagement and satisfaction is the personalization of the course. Oly made sure her lessons were tailored to her classrooms needs:
For me, the platform was very friendly. I could hide from the students the topics they were not going to learn this semester and let them see the ones they would study. When I already knew the dynamics, the content was easy to adapt. I chose the material they needed according to the DGB guidelines, and then it was like, “these topics should be seen, these shouldn’t, and let’s go!” It was very, very simple.
Another vital element of using education technology to personalize the classroom is the human touch. This is how Oly humanizes technology in her class:
Our school is a Lasallian institution. Lasallian teachers’ support humanizes any tool we can use, including the platform. For example, students feel comfortable asking when they get stuck. They even send me messages like, “Miss, I typed this, and the platform doesn’t accept it as valid”, so I explain to them, “Let’s see, it’s not the same; we’re going to try this…". The personal part is the teacher’s responsibility, but it has to do with the type of school where we are working.
We understand that math can be perceived as an obstacle for a large part of the classroom and that using a new technological platform requires an adaptation process. This process can be even more challenging when this subject is not taught in students’ native language.
We strive to improve teachers’ and students’ experiences, and educators’ feedback is essential to keep improving. For example, after one evaluation with La Salle, we created one instruction manual to use our platform (currently available in English and Spanish). If you have any other suggestions, please feel free to contact us!
The outcomes of La Salle’s math courses with Bolster Academy were significantly positive. According to Oly:
I can’t give you exact numbers, but the first year I was in high school, the first year the school started operating, we weren’t using the platform, and I had four or five students who had to retake the exam. Last year, when we were already using the platform, there were only two. I think Bolster Academy is working for us. Here they have the opportunity to have the entire course on the screen; it helps them visually to know, what is next, what was before, and to build connections among the topics.
Gerardo adds another feature that has empowered them to enhance their mathematics lessons:
When we think about mathematics, we have two aspects to consider. One: the students who struggle with the subject, for whom the platform is fundamental. But we also have excellent students. When you have to reach specific content and objectives, sometimes the most brilliant students are not allowed to grow further. In this case, the platform will enable them to solve the most complicated problems depending on their knowledge. This is very valuable, and other platforms don’t have this characteristic.
Oly illustrates the convenience of this feature with a particular situation that happened recently in one of her Mathematics II lessons:
We are studying logarithms, a topic that is generally very difficult for students because it’s hard to explain visually. I have a very exceptional student, and while I was teaching, I saw him lean back and cross his arms. And I told him, “Let’s see, explain to me why you’re not working.” Then he signalled me a three with his hand. It was the answer.
Ten minutes later, after the others finished working, the answer was three. But this student had practised this exercise so many times at home on the platform that he knew that the answer was three when he saw the problem. In these cases, as Gerardo says, very bright students wouldn’t have this possibility with other tools (including other platforms and books).
When we asked these educators what they learned using Bolster Academy, Oly replied:
I learned that I could make mistakes. We also learn from them. What I like the most about the platform is that, as a student or even as a teacher, if you don’t know how to solve an exercise, you ask the platform to give you the solution. It breaks down the solution as the exercise should be solved. As a teacher, this has helped me prepare my classes, and it helps the students a lot too.
When students are a little frustrated and don’t know what to do next, they have the option to press that button, and they will receive a full explanation. They will still have to do the exercise again, but they already have a complete guide. The students will already know where they got stuck, so they will be ready to discover where they were wrong. This is really helpful!
Now that Oly and Gerardo have smoothly integrated our platform into their mathematics lessons, La Salle is looking to the future. And their next ambition is to use Bolster Academy to win contests. As Gerardo explains:
Currently, our school barely has three school cycles. We are a new school. And of those three cycles, we do not have any complete face-to-face. The pandemic interrupted the first in-person course, the second was online, and this one is a hybrid.
We want to identify extraordinary students and start participating in math competitions. I believe that the platform will be an excellent tool for working on this mission.
Finally, we want to close this use case with Oly’s recommendations for other teachers interested in using our digital tool or interested in implementing it:
I think that everyone has to add their personal touch. That would be the most meaningful recommendation for me. The platform and its content are ready to use. This gives you the temptation to do nothing anymore because you already have everything.
In my lessons, I tell my students, “this is the formal method that the platform proposes, and now I will explain to you how I would do it when it was only on paper.” Then students can see a comparison, and both ways are valid. I think it depends a lot on the personality of the teacher.
We are always pleased to work with innovative educators and institutions. We keep learning how to upgrade our products with every teacher and are inspired by their individual strategies.
Any doubts? If you are a teacher using Bolster Academy and want to share your experience, we will be happy to work on a use case together! Please feel free to contact us.