The Digitization of Math: Efficiency
At Texthelp, we believe everyone deserves to understand and be understood. This includes in the math classroom. Digital math teaching and learning offers unparalleled accessibility for all students and offers educators real time saving solutions.
In our latest season of Texthelp Talks, we'll be exploring this topic in depth. Starting with a two part discussion with Texthelpers who are passionate about all things math. In part 2, Louis and Paddy discuss the benefits for educators of digitizing math and how to harness the power of technology to work where educators work to make teaching math more efficient. Louis and Paddy will also close out with 1 thing to know, 1 thing to think about and 1 thing to do before they wrap up season 4.
Dyslexia in the math classroom
Louis Shanafelt (00:15):
Welcome back to part two of the digitization of math on the Texthelp Talks podcast. I'm Louis Shanafelt and I'm joined once again by Paddy McGrath to continue our chat on the importance of educators embracing digital technology in the math classroom. We hope you enjoyed part one as much as we did, but if you're listening to us today and you haven't listened to part one yet, then pop over to check it out and join us back here again after.
Hey, so let's look at, not that we're going to leave, we still may circle back here and talk about some accessibility points here, but I want to try and change, not necessarily the topic, but let's focus and dive in perhaps on how we can save teacher time and be maybe a little bit more efficient in the work that we do. So, we've already talked about the benefits of digital math materials in terms of that accessibility. The benefits for students are very clear here, I think Paddy's touched on that, but this approach to math teaching and learning also offers significant time-saving benefits for educators.
When I think about what you were talking about too, Paddy, in terms of building that foundation, and hopefully, leveling the playing field, we can really get into this. So, when we think about creating those math materials, providing that accessibility, what are the burdens of being able to provide those types of things? How can digital math combat some of these challenges and ultimately save teacher time, in your opinion?
Patrick McGrath (02:03):
I think I remember a number of years ago, I sound like a really old man on this podcast or I'm really saying, "Oh, a number of years ago back when I was a young man," there's not that many years ago, but when I talk about a number of years ago, I like to think back to almost the pre-edtech days. But when things like Google came out and Google started to be adopted by schools as an example, when you'd ask a teacher, "What's the best thing about Google?" and they hadn't really quite got all the Google, a lot of them would go, "Google Drive." And you'd say, "Well, Google Drive? Why? Because you've no USB pens, or why is that?"
And actually, it was because suddenly, overnight with a Google Drive, cloud drive, it became really easy to create a piece of content and go, "There's it for my entire department. There's it for my entire department or my working group across the district or across the multi-academy trust." You could start to share resources really easily. And I think that very simple thing started to make teachers think differently because I think throughout most teachers' careers, you've begged, borrowed and stolen in some cases, and we'll not mention that too much, resources from so many people. But now, it became easier to centralize that.
And if you think about tools, and I really see this magic, Louis, I don't want to get too product focused on this at all, but I always think about Equatio obviously when it comes to maths, but creating resource on something like Equatio, and when you start to create that and that resource becomes digital, and whether it's there or whether it's a simple PDF document with maths questions on it, as you create that, centralizing that, suddenly, it becomes easier to share. Suddenly, your wealth of resources at your disposal starts to become a pooled wealth, and I think that's a big, big plus.
You'll know this, Louis, and I'll not go in too much here on the product side because you are the expert and not me, but one of the things that's brilliant on Equatio is to be able to just create a piece of maths within Mathspace and just share it. You can share a link and boom. And that means when you think of the time saving, when you think of the number of algebra 2 question sheets that are created or the number of trig question sheets that are created, we must have teachers that reinvent the wheel every single day with that. But centralizing that can really, really help save a lot of teachers' time. And if we do that smartly, that's good.
Data-driven insights as well, the ability to be able to get a view on how your pupils and students are progressing, to be able to provide feedback on that. You take the typical feedback loop on non-digital material. Let's just think about it. You hand a paper out on a Monday. You're not seeing that class until the following Monday. They give it to you on the Monday. Then you go home and then you mark it potentially. And then the following Monday, which if everybody's keeping track is now two weeks from when you set it, it's a little bit late for good quality feedback. But if you take the digital math thing, you're literally able to provide instant feedback when a pupil or student submits that work.
But think of the different ways of feedback, think about the reduced ways of marking, and think about the instant help that you can almost give a pupil by giving them that feedback straight away, and suddenly, formative assessment becomes just faster and it becomes this natural way of work. And you just go right in, "No, here's what you do and here's how you change." And two weeks down the line, you may have moved on to a different topic, but hopefully, you've solidified what you've done and all in, I suppose, a more efficient way.
So, I think there's so many things in and around teacher time, but teachers spend a lot of time chasing down resources and sharing, I think, is really important. But let's not forget the time that teachers have to spend on preparation but then on feedback. My life for many years has been just watching my good lady wife on the sofa marking, and I'm glad I don't have to do that anymore because you just go, there is so much in marking and feedback and there's so many delays in that. Digital math just really fundamentally changes all of that straight away.
Louis Shanafelt (06:07):
Absolutely. I was helping my son study for division of decimals the other day, Paddy. He took a test, and I was kept waiting and kept checking the grade book online. I'm like, "What'd you get, buddy?" I don't know. He doesn't have the score. He doesn't have the score. And the scenario you just said was like, we had to wait five or six days to get it. And of course, they don't have Equatio nor any other digital math tool, Paddy, but it was frustrating because I was so anxious to see if my help helped him and to be successful in class and to wait that long for feedback. It's always good too to connect with you, Paddy, just to hear you talk about what's important in where you live and what's important where I live and see how it doesn't matter where you live. I mean, it's the same important things are in both places. Immediate feedback is really important.
Patrick McGrath (06:57):
Totally. And I mean you and I, Louis, lately, I suppose, we've been talking a little bit as the world has been about AI. And if you share that with your network and I share it with my network, the first thing that people say is that tool built into Equatio or any other maths tool really helps with time. Producing a question set in less than 10 seconds is a fundamental, absolute game changer because you can drill into a specific topic and a specific area and finesse that. I mean, think of that in terms of time saving, I mean, that's unheard of. If you rewind the clock and somebody had told you even three years ago, literally three years ago, people said, "Ah, we'll have a tool that will automatically create a question set on anything you could ever dream of," you'd be like, "No." But it's-
Louis Shanafelt (07:47):
It's a good, shameless plug for Equatio because we did just release some artificial intelligence, and creating question in Google Forms is centrally this topic, how can teachers benefit from using digital tools? Well, one of those things is using AI to create those quick form. It gives me flashbacks too, Paddy, and these are scary to think about. But when I was in the classroom, of course, I keep going to a few years ago as well, I used to pass out post-it notes just because I wanted the kids to have something quick to write on and then turned in.
And Paddy, do you know how miserable it was to collect post-it notes and have them all stick together? I mean, I don't know why I thought that that was a good idea to use as a formative assessment collection tool. It would've been better to pass out index cards or those types of things. But I think about how far we've come and how beneficial and speedy this new digital workflow can be where we can provide some of those insights and feedback, and it's wonderful. It's something I wish I had had.
So, let's move on to just something here else. Why do you think it's so important to be able to use digital math where teachers are? For example, Google Classroom, Docs, Forms, Sheets, Slides, even learning management systems become obviously extremely popular. Learning management systems have been around though pre-pandemic. They've been something that have been instituted at least where I've lived for a long time. But we know students and users are building content in these management systems like Canvas, Schoology, D2L. So, why is it so important that we be able to create digital math where teachers are currently working, Paddy, in your opinion?
Patrick McGrath (09:38):
I know you've mentioned LMSs there and maybe get your insight as I'm answering here as well, Louis, because what's different, I suppose, about North America and certainly UK and Europe is our single horse LMS for K-12 or for primary, secondary if you're from the UK, is Google Classroom, and that tends to be the tool of choice. I know you have a wide range in North America that are used across districts and schools, but we would have that and that would be our major workflow piece. In other words, how do you get work out and how do you receive work in, how do you mark it, et cetera, et cetera.
But I think before things like Google Classroom, which ultimately as you alluded to, really came into its own in and around pandemic time where suddenly everything moved online and has thankfully sustained that level of usage, one of the challenges with edtech and education technology in general for me, and I've been in it for a number of years now, was that what you ended up doing was going to a pupil who was used to a very specific way of working.
So, for example, before Google Docs, it was like, well, I use Microsoft Word to write in. And I use Microsoft Word to write in, and you're going, "Well, we've got this fantastic new tool, but what you need to do is stop using Microsoft Word. Let's go to this tool when you want to write and you'll get the help there. And oh, you want to print it? Well, then you go back to Microsoft Word and then you can print it." And it just became a real challenge to have supports and scaffolds integrated into what you were used to doing.
And if we're bringing up our pupils and our students to use real world tools like Google Docs, like Sheets and Slides and Word, we need them to have the supports and the help and everything they need in that same familiar environment. And I think that's really, really, really important.
And if you take something like math or maths for me to say, "Right, we're answering this assignment in Microsoft Word, or we're doing it on a Jamboard, or we're doing it in Google Docs, or we're going to make a slide deck about this," we never would want to ask our pupils and students to go, "Well, actually go create your math somewhere else. Just do it there. That's a new thing. You'll need to open this up, first of all, and let me show you how to use that. And then come back to the tool that you know well and figure out how to join the two together."
That does not help a smooth teaching and learning experience in the classroom. For me, that just gets in the way, that kind of disjointed approach. It takes time, it requires sign-on, it requires onboarding. It just requires a huge amount of practical work as well to get that going. And the last thing any of us, Louis, wanted to do, I think in an environment like that, is ever distract pupils from the point. And the point is not the tool. The point is not the Word or the Equatio. The point is the math. That's what they're there for and that's what we need them to focus on.
And you can, I think with disjointed tools like that just end up focusing on the tool all the time, and then the math is lost in the middle of it. And math is just the thing you've been told to do. Your activity ended up being the tool. So, I think to have tools fully integrated with the tools that you currently use, if that's Docs and Slides and Sheets, or if it's Word or any of the other tools that we're using as our, I'll call it our bread and butter, our daily tools that we use, that's of ultimate importance.
And look, the same is true of Google Classroom, and you alluded to it earlier, and it may work differently in North America, Louis, I know. But for us, we want to be able to, in Google Classroom, create a resource, share it instantly in Google Classroom, the environment that our pupils know and love and understand. We want them to be able to open it in one click from there. We want to be able them to complete their maths assignment within there, and we want them to be able to close that down.
And the same is true of a teacher. We talked earlier about saving time. Well, as a teacher, why would I want to use a tool to create something and then have to save it here and then export it to there, and then put it in a drive, and then upload it directly into my Google Classroom, and then share it out? No, what I want to do is I want to create it, and then I want to press one click, and I want to get it through Google Classroom. I want, as a teacher, a fast and efficient way with the tools that I know.
So, let's not spend time reinventing the wheel on this, Louis, and getting pupils and students to learn new tools that are boxed off. Let's just put it right in the middle of where they're learning the tools that they know and love, and I think that's really important.
Louis Shanafelt (14:24):
Yeah. No, that's really good information. And I know you've alluded before, you started that I might have a little more background on the learning management piece, and I think I probably do. So, I want to add some comments here to yours, if you don't mind, which is a lot of students in North America, they are going to school. They are using these learning management systems, which oftentimes they're very robust, they can contain lots of content, whether it be a teacher's notes, a discussion page, an assignment, a quiz.
A lot of times, in fact, in my district, Paddy, they use learning management systems for all the professional development that teachers would take as well. So, everyone is using these very robust systems. And not to pat myself on the back here, and you may or may not know this, Paddy, but I joined Texthelp six months prior to the pandemic. And one of the things that I wanted to get started on right away as the new product manager for Equatio was I asked the question in one of our daily meetings and I said, "Hey, why is it that we just work with Canvas?" Because not everyone's using Canvas. There are other learning management systems.
And while you said over there where you guys are, many of the tools that are used are your common Google for workplace items such as Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms, and what have you, we have people all over using different platforms, whether it's Canvas, Schoology, D2L. There's one called Infinite Campus. There's Moodle. There's Blackboard. So, there's so many different places where people are working. And as Paddy said here, we just wanted to provide a really rich environment where we could just work where you're working.
And I love what you said, Paddy, in terms of, we don't want you to get lost in the tool because that's taking away from the math and the purpose of the assignment. We want you to be able to just insert, show your understanding and work where you're already working. And one of the great things about the tools that we make here at Texthelp is, in fact, us being able to work where you work.
So, I really, really like your answer there. But I also know that in North America, we have a lot of users using different systems. And that's one of the things, probably one of the more proud things that we've developed on our team specifically, was that we can make digital accessible math that saves teachers' time. We're going full circle here, Paddy, now. We're looping everything together. And now, we do, we provide the functionality where you're currently working.
Look, I could hold up my mobile phone right now and say, "Hey, Paddy." And I don't know whether you're an Android or an Apple guy, but I could say, "You got to start using this phone tomorrow." Well, that would be uncomfortable for a lot of people who don't want to leave where they're already comfortable. So, that's why we wanted to make our products adaptable to where you're currently working. And our technical team, our developers, all the way throughout the entire technical departments here at Texthelp have really provided experiences that allow people to just stay where you're at, keep working where you're working, but you can utilize the tools that we help and provide within your institution. So, really, really... Yeah, go ahead.
Patrick McGrath (17:52):
No, I was just going to say I absolutely give you a lot of credit for that, Louis. I remember before you started all those years ago, I remember before you started, and actually, it became a challenge because the sales team would come to me and they say, "Oh, I'm talking to this school and the school is asking does Equatio work here?" And you'd go, you go, "No, it's just here." And so, I think what is wonderful about, if you fast-forward to where we all are now, I think this is really important in edtech circles, our team are able to 99% of the time say, "Yes. Yes, it works there. Yes, it works there. Yes, it works there."
And so, actually, the complication of a district or a school or a multi-academy trust looking at how they can embrace tools, I always say, "Look, ask the fundamental question to your supplier and go, does this work everywhere?" And I think genuinely, we can sit there, Louis, and say, "Yeah. By the way, what have you got?" And I think that's so, so important. And you brought out the brilliant line earlier, and I'd love to reiterate it, was we work where students and teachers work. End of discussion.
But that also is about inclusion. That means that, for us, if we have our tools and maths is digital, and then our tools sit there and educators are working with them, we actually remove even more barriers than that because that is truly inclusive. You mentioned it before, if you've got a student who's using a Windows device in school, they're maybe not allowed to take it home, but maybe mom and dad has a Chromebook at home. There's no issue with that. They have no more barriers at home than they do in school. They have access to those things. And that comes from, as you say, working where they are and on their terms. I've always felt that's really, really critical for everything we do.
Louis Shanafelt (19:44):
Yeah, we've really done a good job, and it's been a really good learning experience too for me, Paddy. It could be that our tool all of a sudden stops working, but it's typically because there's been a change on the other side. And we're so adaptable and flexible here at Texthelp, and we're what we call agile. So, what we do is we stop what we're doing if we need to, and we adjust.
For example, if something moves into, let's say, an iframe or something just stops working because of a change that Google's made on their end, we're able to adapt, adjust, put out a hot fix or what have you, to make sure that your work can continue right where you're at and there aren't any lapses in where you're working. So, it's really, Paddy, you and I can stand up here and be the face of the podcast, but really, it's those brilliant minds that are behind the scenes. It's great because they don't look for credit. They don't want their backs patted. But we have such talented people here behind the scenes at Texthelp, and they deserve an awful lot of credit at keeping our products afloat and working where you work. Right?
Patrick McGrath (20:54):
No, I couldn't agree more, Louis. And there were things in the time limits that we didn't even get to talk about today, and I think it is a credit to the entire team on that. And this is sounding like a Texthelp fan club podcast at this point, but I think we do have to value the people that we work with for sure, Louis. But we talked a lot about things like text-to-speech. Accessible maths has given us text-to-speech, but I think almost in that, we have to remind everybody that accessibility is even more than that.
Our team has been able to not only take that, what we know and love, text-to-speech, but also go here, how would you like to actually engage with your maths content? Would you just like to speak it? Would you just like to speak and then your maths content comes out? Yeah, and tick. And then you go and you go, right, well, actually, this bit isn't accessible. How would you like to hear that? Oh, would you like to reuse that math somewhere else? Would that be good for you?
And then when we talked about disabilities earlier, there's a potential there that a pupil doesn't want to write, it doesn't want to speak, but maybe they're actually just like a good old-fashioned pen and paper. But of course, what we make sure is there's an accessible way to do that as well. And the maths is turned into accessible maths, so remove all those barriers. And we didn't even talk about, I suppose, UDL, Louis, but the ability to give those multiple means to go at it, that's set that foundation of accessible content and have accessible tools. The sky's the limit here on digital maths. There's just so many ways to engage and interact with it now, Louis. It's just fabulous.
Louis Shanafelt (22:32):
Absolutely. Well, that's just really great.
Patrick McGrath (22:35):
I think people think we get excited about digital maths, Louis.
Louis Shanafelt (22:39):
Patrick McGrath (22:39):
Can you tell?
Louis Shanafelt (22:41):
Sometimes, it may feel a little dorky or geeky, but the excitement's there because we're providing opportunities for all. And I think that everyone can get behind that excitement. So, brilliant. I think that's all the time we have for today. It's been really great to have you share your thoughts and experiences with us, Paddy. So, thank you. To our listeners, thanks for listening.
So, a quick recap here before you go. One thing to know is that digital math instructional materials offer significant time-saving benefits for educators. One thing to think about is what platforms and digital tools do you already use that you can integrate into your math teaching and learning? Are you a Google school? Then maybe tomorrow, you can create a math quiz on Google Forms. Think of all the ways that digital maths can work where students and teachers work.
One thing to do, let's take a look at our digital math page full of resources on teaching math online to save educator time, make math more accessible than ever before, and empower learners to succeed. Visit text.help/podcast, and don't forget to subscribe to Texthelp Talks on your preferred podcast player or streaming service, so you never miss an episode. Thanks again. Bye.