According to Roblyer (2016), there are five types of instructional software. The types are classified based on the instructional function that it is intended to serve: drill and practice, tutorial, simulation, instructional game, and problem-solving program. Each type of software can be utilized in an Algebra 1 classroom. With advances in technology, some of the software applications can serve different function and be classified into multiple categories. The teacher needs to determine the audience and the purpose before selecting software to be sure that it meets the specific needs of that lesson.
Drill and Practice:
Drill and practice is one of the most common forms of software available for mathematics classrooms. Students solve problems and receive immediate feedback on their accuracy. It allows students to practice basic arithmetic skills and number sense which are areas in which some middle school and high school students still struggle. Drill and practice allows teachers to differentiate instruction by allowing each student to focus on personal areas of weakness. According to Roblyer (2016), constructivists sometimes refer to drill and practice as “drill and kill” due to the repetition and isolation from applications (p 80). Despite this, many mathematics teachers find drill and practice to be an appropriate tool when students need to practice and become more fluid with basic math skills in order to apply that knowledge. The teacher can focus on applications of Algebra during whole class or small group time without needing to take extra time to review the foundational skills that students practiced on the software. Some popular examples of drill and practice software are IXL, MathXL, or MyMathLab.
Tutorials provide instruction on a single topic or an entire chapter, or a complete curriculum. The tutorial is usually in a video format to show the process step-by-step through an example problem and can be used to differentiate instruction. These videos can also be created by the teacher for the students in that class, created by an outside agency, or sometimes created by students for their peers. Linear tutorials progress along the same path for every student no matter the accuracy of their answers. On the other hand, branching tutorials adapt based on student response and mastery to provide a different sets of practice. Many students experience less frustration if the software branches by sending them back to relearn and practice skills that they have not yet mastered before moving on to more difficult topics or by allowing students to progress to the next topic after mastery instead of repetitively practicing the same topic until the end of the problem set. My students have expressed their favorite part of a video tutorial as the ability to pause, stop, and rewind as necessary to understand the problem and use it as a model while completing a problem on their own. Some examples of commonly used tutorial software are Khan Academy, Virtual Nerd, and MathTrain.tv.
My Algebra 1 students frequently ask, “When am I going to use this in life?” Simulations allow students to see applications of the mathematics at work and provide students with some curiosity to investigate and develop their own ideas. A simulation is a computerized model designed to teach about how a real or imaginary system works. This type of software allows students to conduct an experiment without having to purchase materials. A simulation can also allow a student to “reset” the scenario so that they can manipulate different variables to see each individual effect. A simulation can increase student engagement and understanding by allowing students to see how math is connected to other subjects and the real-world. Simulation software can also help with time by speeding up a lengthy process, slowing down a reaction that occurs too quickly for the naked eye to see, or allowing multiple iterations to occur at one time (Roblyer, 2016). Some common simulations that can be used in the mathematics classroom are stock market simulations and probability simulators such as spinners, flipping a coin, or rolling a die.
Instructional games are add rules or competition to learning activities in an attempt to make learning more fun and, therefore, effective. Some teachers use games as a reward for students who finished their required work early or others used games to motivate students to practice basic skills in a more exciting fashion than drill and skill software. Students engage in the lesson or task if they can win a prize (a badge or to level up) or can compare progress with a friend. Games can be difficult to implement effectively in the classroom due to the natural tendency for a game to be based on speed which will leave the students that need extra time to process feeling left out or guilty for letting the team down. Some examples of instructional games are Jeopardy (Sometimes, I award points to all teams that get the answer correct, even if they were not first, so that I still promote critical thinking and team work instead of rushing.), Gone Fishin’ (the actual game is a PowerPoint, but this is a blog entry explaining the process and showing some screen shots), and Math Playground.
Problem-solving software can help to develop problem-solving skills specific to the content area or general skills. Students are presented a problem or scenario that they need to solve. According to Roblyer (2016), this can provide an opportunity for students to apply their knowledge to new situations, “promote visualization in mathematics problem solving,” and improve interest and motivation (p. 97). Depending on the students, some may just dive in on their own to start exploring and working through trial and error while other students may require some leading questions from the teacher. Some popular sources for problem-based lessons are the Buck Institute, Geometer’s Sketchpad, and Desmos.
I can technically say that I have used all five types of instructional software with my classes. I do not use problem-solving or simulation approaches enough. I feel like I am always pressed for time and do not have an extra day or two to allow the students to explore and reach their own conclusions. I know that student can learn so much more from a simulations or problem-solving scenario since they need to think it through on their own and incorporate multiple ideas from inside and outside of the math classroom. These types of software really require students to think, apply their knowledge, and sometimes create something new. These are important skills for students to develop as they become adults. My students are the most comfortable with drill and practice and instructional games because their previous teachers have used them either as remediation, a reward for finishing early, or motivation. I really enjoy when a student asks “What would you do if…..?” because I know they have been intrigued by the lesson and where thinking about the scenario.
References: Roblyer, M. (2016). Integrating educational technology into teaching (7th ed.). Boston: Pearson.