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Least favorite subject math? Technology aims to change attitudes


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SALT LAKE CITY — Some Utah schools are piloting math technology that could affect a generation of students. It's changing attitudes about what's widely considered the least favorite subject — math.

How many times have you heard someone say, ‘I can’t do math?’” Math doesn't usually spark engaged chatter, confident answers or rave reviews. But Megan Fairbourn, a seventh grade teacher, is piloting new math technology at Syracuse Junior High that's changing the equation.

“Math is the one subject that students have the least confidence in and also is the most boring,” she said. “So we have to literally stand on our heads to get these kids engaged. Sometime technology is just that, an engagement tool.”

But it's much more. Students get real-time feedback as often as they need it.

“If we don’t understand something right away, we can easily just push ‘explain’ and it will explain the problem,” said seventh grader Hannah Krauss.

Another seventh grader, Darrell Washington, said, “It explains it to you nice, simple and easy.”

The software also helps teachers master the subject. Educators say the equation taking shape in this class is crucial to our state's economy.

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Dr. Sarah Brasiel at the USU Department of Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences said, “We need people to be employed and to have the skills. If math is that type of barrier for both college and career success, we need to overcome that.”

According to the STEM center, 15 of the 20 fastest growing jobs are STEM related, meaning math is required. And, more than half the students who drop out of community college do so because they can't handle the math. Classrooms like those at Syracuse Junior High are good laboratories to see what programs produce "greater than " outcomes in math, Fairbourn said.

“If it can give them a positive experience in math in junior high, typically in the seventh grade, then it’s almost like you’ve won the battle,” she said.

How to fund the technology is one reason why, with four days left in the legislative session, lawmakers still don’t have a budget.

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Deanie Wimmer

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