An Evolving Research Question

At the beginning of this school year, I came up with the following research question to guide my use of technology in the math classroom: How does incorporating more small-group, technology-based assignments and projects into the curriculum impact the development of students’ collaboration skills?  

While collaboration skills are incredibly important and something that I do certainly strive to help my students further develop, I also realized over the course of the year that my main goal has really been to help my students develop a deeper understanding and a greater mastery of grade-level math concepts by having them take responsibility for teaching others. Thus, during the process of this project, my research question changed a bit to become: What is the impact on math understanding (as measured by assessment performance) of having students use technology to create audio/visual tutorials in which they become the teachers of grade-level math skills and concepts?

My Initial Hunch

In a class that currently consists of just four students, there were only so many options when assigning partners for group work. It also seemed to me that, when creating tutorials in pairs, the more confident students consistently took the lead. The less confident students seemed to regularly assume a more passive role in the whole process. Thus, after the first term, I sort of scrapped the focus on collaboration and had students work individually on creating subsequent tutorials, thinking that this would require those less confident students to really step up. Over time, though, I noticed that my small class of four students was separating into two distinct groups, with one half seeming to grasp the grade-level skills and concepts much more quickly and with much less repetition and practice than the other half.

When I sat down to analyze the data I had gathered on tutorial and assessment scores for various math unit topics, I predicted I’d find that all students generally performed well on their tutorials but that this might not translate into equivalent assessment scores. My reason for thinking this was that, in order to support those struggling students to more clearly articulate their explanations of concepts, I had provided scaffolding (in the form of sentence starters) for them to use when formulating their tutorial scripts. Tutorials were, in fact, turning out better for the most part. However, I wondered if this form of “filling in the blanks” had perhaps taken too much of the teaching onus off of the students. While they could fill in those blanks with some support, they still could not always apply the skills and concepts consistently on their own.

A Surprising Trend

Focusing on the numerical data I was able to gather, I actually noticed something I hadn’t quite expected. The less confident students generally performed better on those assessments given earlier in the year when the focus of my research had still been on group work. When they had been paired up with more confident students, their assessment grades were mostly above 75% (100% and 70% on a September assessment on the topic of performing operations with integers and 90% and 77% on an October assessment on the topic of exponents). When paired up with each other, though, the less confident students received scores of 60% and 30% on a November assessment on the topic of scientific notation. At this point, I began having students complete tutorials more independently. The two students who tended to grasp concepts more quickly continued to mostly achieve assessment scores above 75%. However, the two students who needed greater support consistently achieved scores below 75% (72% and 74% on a November assessment on transformations, 71% and 63% on a February assessment on solving algebraic equations, and 63% and 53% on an April assessment on determining the slope of a line).

So, what does this mean? Perhaps I was onto something with my original research question after all. Whether or not the group work students engaged in at the beginning of the year had a major impact on the development of collaboration skills, it did seem to have a benefit on the understanding of skills and concepts. While I hadn’t anticipated it, the students in need of greater support performed better on assessments when they had prepared tutorials with a more confident partner, something I’ll definitely keep in mind moving forward!

Technology: A Key Component to a Multi-Sensory Approach to Learning

Last year, as I was navigating through the uncharted waters, also known as my first year of teaching, I couldn’t help but notice how limited my knowledge and abilities were on the use of technology in my classroom. About halfway through my first year, I began to use a projector, but pathetically my use of technology ended there. As I went on peer visits in my school, to observe other teachers in my building, I was in awe of the use of technology in some of the classrooms I visited. Students in the middle schools have this amazing resource at the touch of their fingertips, an IPad, and I had no clue how to use it.

At the beginning of this school year, I reviewed different units and lessons from my first year, and I noticed something missing across the board: the use of technology, specifically IPads. This was not okay. I knew I needed to take advantage of the technology available to teachers and students in our district. As I started to think about how I wanted to incorporate technology into my classroom, I knew I wanted to connect the use of technology to the individual styles of learning and instruction present in a special education classroom. As a special educator, I know how beneficial a multi-sensory approach to learning is for students with disabilities. So how can I use technology a means of incorporating a multi-sensory approach to learning in my classroom?


The students I teach in my program are auditory, visual, and/or tactile learners. Some of my students benefit from all three approaches, and some students identify only with one learning style. As I get to know my students, I am able to identify how each student learns best, and can then adjust my practice accordingly to fit each student’s needs. However, as a middle school teacher, I know this is not only the time to teach academics and social skills, it is also the time to teach independence. A goal for most of my students is for them to become more responsible in their learning experience. With the technology accessible to students today, it is important for all students, especially those with difficulties in their reading, written expression, organization, etc., to know how to use technology to their advantage.

Students needs to be explicitly taught, and before I can have the expectation that students will use technology to accommodate their multi-sensory approaches to learning, I need to understand myself how this can be done. Through the course of this year, I will be exploring how technology can be used as a multi-sensory approach to learning, specifically for students with disabilities. The more I learn about this amazing resource, the better I will be able to explicitly teach my students on how to use this tool as a complement to their individual learning styles.

Let’s Brainstorm! Let’s Collaborate! Let’s Videotape!

Hello WIN Team Members!

We are more than halfway through January and the blog posts have been fantastic! The teaching and learning going on in our classrooms is impressive, and I think we all have learned so much in such a short period of time through the work of this team.

If you have not yet had a chance to post to the blog, give it a try! Sometimes the hardest part is just getting started…

A few reminders:

Peggy and Lucy are here to help. While we are available to help all team members, Peggy will work primarily with Elementary, and Lucy will work primarily with Middle and High School.

How can we help?

  • Brainstorm blog post ideas
  • Share ideas and resources for lessons, implementing curriculum, and more!
  • Assist with videotaping and picture taking in the classroom

Peggy and Lucy love to collaborate; It’s what we do every day! If you want to talk about the blog, want share resources, or need help with videotaping, please let us know. So many great ideas get even better when collaborating with like-minded colleagues.

Back in September we were exploring options for new video cameras to document our practice. Since then, we realized we already have what we need. Middle School and High School teachers have MacBook Pros. Some elementary teaches also have Macbook Pros. Using iMovie and QuickTime Player, you can easily capture an entire lesson. Some teachers have iPads, and all schools have Flip cameras in their libraries available for check out.

How can you help us?

We will be considering the purchase of video cameras at some point. Please share if you have any ideas with regard to video cameras that may work well for our projects. We welcome your input and want to be sure we purchase the right cameras for use in a school environment.

Anything else? Let us know!