In my 16 years of teaching math, I’ve never tired of witnessing that “light bulb” moment when a student and a concept click. Math can be challenging, particularly when English is a second language, which is the case with many of my students. I’m always thinking about creative, out-of-the-box ways to engage them and set them up for success.
Teaching doesn’t end with the school day
When students work together outside the classroom, their enjoyment, comfort level, and skills increase. So over the years I’ve developed a support infrastructure comprising after-school study sessions, peer tutoring groups, and a buddy system where kids exchange phone numbers and work through problem sets together from home. I also got in the practice of sharing my contact information – always with parental consent – so students could call me in the evenings if a “math emergency” came up.
Doing math together over the phone worked well because students had to articulate problem sets verbally, which improved general language proficiency as well as their ease with the particular language of math. The downside was not being able to see the material they were discussing. We experimented with Skype and FaceTime to incorporate that missing visual element, but, like the phone, neither platform offered a way to save and refer to information later.
So nothing was quite hitting the spot, until a teacher friend added me to a Marco Polo group that she was using to organize a birthday party. Suddenly, I had my own light bulb moment: Why not use Marco Polo with my students?
The communication equation
As soon as my students and I got into the groove of using Marco Polo, I could see how well it would fill in the gaps. With Marco Polo students get the benefit of talking through a math problem with the added fun of seeing each other’s faces. They can show each other formulas and demonstrate work using the flip screen feature. And students who aren’t as comfortable on camera can use Notes to ask questions or get clarification.
I’ve never required students to use Marco Polo, but most of them are eager to, even the younger ones. (I tell them they can use it as soon as they turn 13.) The first Polo to me always has to come from a parent who says, on camera, that their child has permission to use Marco Polo with me and with peers for academic purposes. After that, we’re off and running.
With the right kind of support, ALL students are capable of succeeding in math.
A formula for success
Since adding Marco Polo to my teaching tool kit, I’ve seen students blossom in ways that go far beyond rote learning.
- Retention and recall have increased. When students forget a concept or want to practice before an exam, they can refer to saved Polos instead of having to start from scratch. The ability to review information as many times as they want, at their own pace, increases proficiency.
- Self-esteem and morale have grown. When students are stumped by a math problem at home, they don’t have to sit alone with their frustration. We work through it together.
- Students are having more fun. They lift each other up with the message that they can do this!
Whether I’m using Marco Polo with a large classroom group, a small study group, or one-on-one with a student, working with the app helps instill confidence and create forward momentum in their learning.
The top 3 ways Marco Polo supports Jami’s math curriculum
#1: Accommodates different learning styles and needs. With Marco Polo you can exchange information verbally, visually, and in written form. Students are able to review specific saved Polos when preparing for exams, and their academic vocabulary increases immensely.
#2. Allows me to be proactive without being invasive. If I need to make an announcement or clarify a point, I can send a quick Polo to an entire classroom or study group. Or I can connect with single students in a low-key way. One of my students with an individualized education program (IEP) needs extra support with organization. Occasionally I’ll send him a Polo to say, “Hey, just a reminder that you have an assignment due tomorrow.” He’ll Polo back in gratitude. That one quick touch point can mean the difference between pride and panic the next day.
#3. Fits seamlessly into my routine. Teachers work really hard, and not all of us want to be available beyond school hours. But I find Marco Polo easy to integrate without making me feel burdened. Sometimes I’ll even use it at the gym! I’ll watch a couple of student Polos while I’m on the treadmill and then answer questions during the walk from there to the weight machine. It’s just that simple – yet the benefit to my students is immeasurable.