Students math chat boards a popular homework aid
Students struggling with math can get help from student teachers. Mattecoach.se started at LiU last spring and they have already received nearly 300 calls. Now, during autumn, the coaches are ready and waiting.
They sit two on two in the ‘Determinant’ venue of B-building at Campus Valla. For four days a week, Monday through to Thursday between 17:00-20:00 they work, chatting via MSN to school children, who are at home and have become stuck on a mathematic problem.
During the autumn semester, fourteen math student teachers will offer their services as a math coach. These are both prospective elementary and secondary teachers. Some of them have been around since the start, while others have just completed coach training for 20 hours; such as the project manager Daniel Carlsson from the department of mathematics MAI, agrees.
Mattecoach.se started at KTH in 2009 and since then the operation has spread. LiU joined as a new "node" in February and was immediately in contact with schools in Katrineholm. Recently, students in Valdemarsvik also had the possibility to chat with student teachers, totalling 2800 cases.
Qualified homework help outside of school hours will cost the participating municipalities only SEK 120.
This project appears to be a win-win situation. Students receive help at home with their math problems, which is especially important for those unable to get help from their parents. Student teachers can practice their teaching skills and in turn garner broad experience of learning at a detailed level that they otherwise would be unlikely to get. Researchers then retain access to all the saved calls - fantastic base material.
“During the spring LiU's coaches took 291 calls; totalling combined coaching time of 223 hours. 53 % of calls related to problems with an assignment, 26 % of problems relating to a single area of math. Two examples of these stumbling blocks are mathematical equations and algebra. 72 % of the students give the coaches the highest rating”, summarizes Daniel Carlsson, referring to current statistics from the project’s premiere in spring.
All sorts of students contact the math students, with a preponderance of the really talented. The network contacts with the students are often seen as a chance to challenge. For students who think math is tricky, anonymity can work as a protective barrier for them to dare to show gaps in their knowledge: no grades are set here.
“Sometimes I suddenly realize that a student has no knowledge of something that should have been understood several years ago. It’s a fantastic feeling when they begin to comprehend the task. You become very happy”, says Helena Dahl, primary school teacher in her fifth semester and her second as coach.
“During our training, all forms of hands on work experience are important. That's when everything becomes real and you can get a feel for whether you are suitable as a teacher. At times you call into question your choice of education”, says aspiring high school teacher Tabea Schmidt and laughs at her fellow coaches’ almost surprised faces.
Mattecoach.se has also proven to be a good entry portal to a job. The coaches have a good reputation for their commitment.
“Schools have been in touch with us when they are looking for new teachers”, said Daniel Carlsson.
The coaches’ task is not to give quick answers, but to assist students in arriving at a basic understanding. As it turns out, it takes time; on average 46 minutes while some calls last over an hour.
“But most people want confirmation that they were on the right track and the talks are of course quick”, says Sofie Thorsell, primary school teacher in her 7th semester and the student teacher with the responsibility of arranging the schedules and other practical tasks. She has been involved since its inception and is, to say the least, enthusiastic about everything the project offers.
“When working over the Internet you have to be very clear and express yourself so that students begin to think. We only have text to work with, so both the students and student teachers are compelled to put mathematics into words. Use math language. This really is great training for a coach.”
“Unlike the classroom, these types of tutorials lack eye contact, body language, and we are unable to see the students’ reactions. This may make it difficult at first, but you must learn to think in new ways”, says Sebastian Ekholm, a new coach and about to become a secondary school teacher.
There’s a heavy use of emoticons. An awareness that language, without direct contact, can so easily be misinterpreted. Take the question "How were you thinking?": If this question is posed by someone who looks curious and glad then it is received well, but written on the Net, it can be perceived as threatening.
“We’ve made so many mistakes. If we write "Tell me what you were thinking" then that works much better”, says Helena Dahl.
A lot of time with many students provides student teachers with wad of experience.
There’s been a lot of talk about Swedish children being poor at math. As a coach are you enlightened about the causes?
“Not really. Perhaps a lack of stamina and too high expectations. Some things you don’t learn quickly and we need to be prepared for that”, she continues.
"It is assumed that math is difficult. Reading a postage table in social studies is easy but it becomes very difficult if it is done in a math class”, says Daniel Carlsson.
These MSN chats also provide a clear picture of how inattentive the students are when doing their homework.
“There will be breaks, they chat with friends, break off for something else, returning ten minutes later with an answer and then continue with the next question”, says Sofie Thorsell.
High school math can actually be quite difficult. Are there instances where you are unable to provide a solution to the students’ questions?
“Then we write: 'Wait! We need to think about it!'
There are always two coaches and we always find a solution. However admitting that you have to think about something isn’t the end of the world.”
The picture shows (from left) Clara Säberg, Tabea Schmidt, Helena Dahl, Christoffer Ekros, Sebastian Ekholm, Jakob Flyckt, Sofia Thorsell and Daniel Carlsson.
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Last updated: 2013-06-04