Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Computerized math enrichment

In preparation for our after-school math enrichment program, I tracked down some websites offering free math practice: mostly straight up, fluency-fostering practice with basic arithmetic, with corrective feedback but no distracting bells and whistles (e.g., Free Rice). When I attempted to link to these sites on the school’s computers, however, I discovered that they had been blocked by Philadelphia School District’s Internet Firewall, which doesn’t recognize them as educational games. The kids were quick to tell me about a site that isn’t blocked: CoolMath. They all knew about this site, and their eagerness to play CoolMath immediately raised my suspicions.

CoolMath certainly looks like an educational site. It’s got lessons and drills, including basic arithmetic, fractions, pre-algebra, algebra, and even pre-calculus. But it also has “puzzles” and “strategy games” like the monster in the maze and the obstacle course and the road race, and it was naturally these games, and not the math lessons, that all the students, without exception, consistently chose to do. When I asked them where the math was, they insisted that these were puzzles and strategy games. After all, math (especially Reform Math’s version of it) is all about puzzles and strategies, and not about “mere calculation.”

When we revamp this program in the fall, CoolMath will be gone. Not only did the students learn no math during the 15 minutes at the end of the afternoon when we let them access the site; many of them so pre-occupied with how much time was left until they could get on the computer and do CoolMath that they had trouble focusing on the actual math lessons that were the centerpiece of our program.

I’m not sure how much time students in general are spending on sites like CoolMath during their school days, but these students in particular (many of whom don’t have computers at home) were suspiciously familiar with, and suspiciously addicted to, this particular unbanned “educational” Internet site.


Unknown said...

I used IXL for practice, which isn't free, but offers real math, with (almost) no bells and whistles. The few they did seemed to actually motivate the kids to do more problems. It was worth paying for.

TerriW said...

My kids never cease to amaze me in their ability to find the non-academic corners of academic websites.

Anonymous said...

At our school we were to forward sites we wanted unblocked to the tech coordinator who would unblock them for us. As a math teacher I was doing this all the time because so many math sites are read by the filter as games., especially probability sites.

There must be a process in that district by which sites can be unblocked.