Technology and teaching are becoming increasingly intertwined. Students in the twenty-first century will interact with the world through a technological lens. Technology is changing how and what we learn, allowing students access and directing them to those advancements which will determine future academic success. This article outlines a case study conducted in my self-contained ninth grade classroom to test the effectiveness of Smart tablet math applications for students with Autism who struggle with math fluency.
An understanding of basic math concepts (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) is unarguably essential knowledge to which a student must be exposed, and master to continue in academic learning and to function successfully in society. Students often fail to develop automaticity of these functions and find great difficulty in keeping up with the concepts of advanced math that follow in mathematics. Technology is math and today’s students are very interested in technology, so teachers who can help students learn through this interest may help students gain the necessary fluency and automaticity in basic math functions to increase future chances for success.
Mathematics software programs aiding students in gaining fluency and automaticity have been implemented into math curricula across the United States with success, but giving every student access to individual computers and the necessary software can be an economic challenge. If students are struggling to get the numbers right so are the schools, but this is not a study of the economics of education. This was a study of how technology can aid students in achieving automaticity of basic math functions without dependence on calculators. Failure to master the basic operations can further delay if not derail a student with Autism.
Visually-aided instruction is often a vital element in working with students on the Autism Spectrum, such as those found in the evolution of computer technology; enter the smart tablet. And returning to economics for a moment, the smart tablet is a more economical solution to supplying students in classrooms with limited space and it is also easier to share among a group of students. Tablet applications are often more affordable and more adaptable than academic computer software programs. Applications are visually stimulating, graphically interesting, and continually evolving; these elements help promote engagement for students’ learning. For teachers, constant evolution is the art and science of teaching, so incorporating new technologies into lessons and classroom exploration may influence students to learn with increasing independence. The evolution of the textbook is the smart tablet, so teachers must begin to expose students to learning through this new technology. Interacting with technology will be unavoidable in the future, so preparing students in the classroom to build an understanding of the progress of technology will allow them greater access to future success.
The introduction of the smart tablet into the classroom provides teachers and researchers with increasing abilities to reach, engage, and motivate students. Smart tablets also aid in keeping classroom records and data. Another aspect of the evolution of the teacher within special education is the instruction to acclimate students to the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) supports. I examined how smart tablet apps allowed students on the Autism Spectrum to practice basic math functions in a visual realm. The study helped to determine if repeated use of the apps had any effect on students’ fluency and automaticity in solving addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division problems. This experiment evaluated the effectiveness of current technology, namely the smart tablet. The intervention designed for this study was structured as a supplemental intervention incorporated into the Algebra content material. Students were allowed ten minutes per day, three days a week, for the duration of eight weeks to engage with the math application on the smart tablet.
The focus material utilized for this study was specifically the application Math Racer. However, for future replications any simple interface math application may be just as effective. Assessment tools provided by AIMS web (www.aimsweb.com) were used before intervention for a baseline; students received an assessment test at the end of each week during intervention. The dependent variable was the total of correct responses to basic math problems answered in one minute. The form of the dependent variable changed only in that the operation of the problems progressed based on student skill mastery level.
Multiple baseline data were collected from AIMS web assessments where students are not permitted to use tools to answer problems. Tools are defined as entering problems into a calculator, manipulative counting items, or a scratch sheet. The application allowed students to focus all of their cognitive skills on building basic computation skills. Each student was timed and each participant’s score was recorded as a feature of the app. Another advantage to applications in the classroom is that physical data collection tasks are reduced. The score keeping can be used to motivate students in a competition or just allow them to see their own quantitative progress. The application’s interface was minimal, the selections for practice are: addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, addition/subtraction together, multiplication/division together, and all combined.
This study was designed to decrease students’ dependency on calculators, hash marks or various other crutches to solve basic single digit math problems. The most current application software in a smart tablet was utilized to determine the effectiveness of visual technology to increase internalization of basic sums, differences, products, and quotients. The four participating students selected were encountering great difficulties accessing the Algebra I subject content due to the accommodations they had developed reliance on throughout elementary and middle school education. Their dependency on counting hash marks and using calculators allowed these students to avoid internalizing the knowledge of addition and multiplication facts. Without the automaticity of recalling these basic facts, these students were lost as they entered secondary education where possession of this knowledge is taken for granted as students engage in more complex math functions.
The treatment probes determined if the intervention had an effect on students’ fluency gains. The following chart displays the progress of the participants by comparing the intervention average to the baseline average. The middle column contains the highest score attained by each participant to show the achievement possible perhaps with extended use.
Student 1 began treatment with an average of 25 percent accuracy of multiplication problems answered correctly in one minute and reaching a high score of 65 percent. His overall average was around 60 percent accuracy. Student 2 showed improvement immediately after intervention implementation but maintained an average of 50 percent during intervention. Student 3 nearly doubled his score when treatment was introduced earning a score of 38 percent. His average was 50 percent accuracy overall. Student 4 began baseline with an average of 5 percent. He did triple his average though only reaching 15 percent accuracy during the intervention. He did not demonstrate increased fluency with subtraction through implementation of the intervention and continued to rely on hash marks during probes, significantly impeding internalization of sums and differences. It is thought that the severity of Autism in Student 3 contributed to greater cognitive delays which were not addressed with the specific application at the time of intervention. In conclusion of the evidence presented, incorporating technology-based interventions in the classroom does support students in building skills. The necessity of engagement with technology in real world situation only reinforces the evidence that taking learning out of the textbook will benefit our students long term. Exposing students to various methods of learning aids in the generalization process and creates learners who seek to be engaged in evolutionary progress that informs academic learning.
Elizabeth Perez, MS, is a special education high school teacher for The Association for Metroarea Autistic Children, Inc. For information about the school, visit www.amac.org or call (212) 645-5005.
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