Is there a way that smartphones can decrease achievement gaps in math classes?
Sam Woodard, co-founder and CEO of the app MathChat, believes that they can. After graduating from the University of Washington College of Education with a Masters in Teaching in 2013, Woodard went on to teach in various K-12 settings, including Cleveland High School in Seattle.
“My experience during my masters program at UW helped me find others who believe in improving education to address inequality and also exposed me to efforts being done to address these issues,” he said. “That inspired me to focus my teaching practice to fight for helping all students learn and address inequality.”
While at UW, Woodard was exposed to the complexity of education inequality and realized that innovation was the key to finding successful solutions. He found that teaching is a process and the goal is to seek solutions that will reach every student on a personal level.
Through his experiences at UW and working in public schools, Woodard created MathChat. The app allows students to communicate with one another and helps promote understanding of math concepts among their peers.
While the app is not directly used by teachers, they can encourage students to use MathChat at home when they get stuck on a problem.
“When we were starting MathChat, we found that many students do not have access to someone at home who can help them with math, and furthermore, many low-income students only have access to technology through smartphones,” Woodard said. “That inspired us to create a free, accessible app that enabled students to reach out to other students to help. Instead of students feeling stuck without help, they can now find others who can help them understand in more personalized ways.”
Woodard credits his dual background in education and engineering for providing the inspiration to connect technology and creative teaching methods.
“The most exciting part of technology is that these methods can be distributed around the world,” Woodard said.
Collaboration, Woodard says, is crucial to addressing opportunity and achievement gaps that are especially prevalent in math education.
“When students work together, students that have a better understanding of ideas help the students who are still trying to understand, and pull those students up to their level,” he said. “As groups of students work together, the students who started with less understanding are brought closer to the students with more understanding, lessening the gap in student performance.”
These concepts apply not only to students, but also to teachers.
“Right now most teacher collaboration is limited to a teacher’s personal network or their colleagues in their school,” Woodard said. “In the meantime, there are creative, effective teaching methods being developed across the country, but most of these methods are not widely shared. There needs to be more work on a system for enabling teachers to share this plethora of ideas.”
Woodard is optimistic about a future in which new technologies make it easier for teachers and students to collaborate. And he looks forward to MathChat and other innovative ideas helping make learning come alive for all students.
Dustin Wunderlich, Director for Marketing and Communications