In February 2016, NewSchools launched the Middle & High School Math Ed Tech Challenge – open to entrepreneurs developing engaging, technology-enabled learning experiences, assessments and other digital tools that support middle and high school (6th-12th grade) students’ development of mathematical knowledge, skills and mindsets while preparing them for success beyond the classroom.
Why Middle & High School Math?
Opportunities for growth in middle and high school math
There are a plethora of math tools available, yet very few are fully meeting students’ and teachers’ needs. While there is growing demand for innovation across the K-12 math spectrum, we believe that edtech is especially well positioned to make an impact in middle and high school. Middle school is a critical inflection point, transitioning students between the foundational math concepts taught in elementary school and the college and career readiness focus of high school. In high school there is perhaps even greater need for connections to meaning beyond the classroom, as students and teachers cultivate a balance of conceptual understanding, procedural skills, and problem solving ability.
Critical student needs: How technology can support math learning
Based on conversations with with a diverse group of educators and edtech decision-makers, we believe that technology is especially well poised to create an impact on middle and high school math by making learning accessible to students of all abilities and cultural backgrounds, providing age-appropriate scaffolding for underdeveloped foundational concepts, enabling rich social interactions with peers and teachers, encouraging growth mindset, metacognition and agency, and creating opportunities to apply knowledge to real-world challenges.
Catalyzing an ecosystem of math learning innovation
We’ve developed a program to support the most promising companies and nonprofits working in this space to learn, connect and grow together. In addition to grant funding, challenge winners will receive feedback and hands-on support from best-in-class educators, researchers, entrepreneurs and technology professionals.
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Opportunities for growth in middle and high school math
Mathematical knowledge, skills and mindsets have enabled people to grow healthy crops, explore outer space, build supercomputers, establish the modern financial system, and uncover countless scientific and medical discoveries. Math principles are fundamental components of everyday life, from assessing physical fitness to tracking personal finances.
There are a plethora of math tools available, yet very few are fully meeting students’ and teachers’ needs. Meanwhile edtech entrepreneurs struggle to separate themselves from the noise of a seemingly saturated market. While there is growing demand for innovation across the K-12 math spectrum, we believe that edtech is especially well positioned to make an impact in middle and high school (6th-12th grade). Middle school is a critical inflection point, transitioning students between the foundational math concepts taught in elementary school and the ‘college and career readiness’ focus of high school. Instructional designers targeting these students must work hard to reach the holy grail of ‘student engagement’ – a goal which can be supported in part by illuminating how math knowledge applies to students’ own interests and aspirations. In high school there is perhaps even greater need for connections to meaning beyond the classroom, as students and teachers cultivate a balance of conceptual understanding, procedural skills, and problem solving ability.
Over time, middle and high school math education has become less about math’s creative and transformative possibilities and more about the memorization of procedures and the performance of calculating the right solution. In theory, widespread implementation of the Common Core State Standards was meant to address these issues. However, newly released PARCC and Smarter Balanced scores (like NAEP scores before them) confirm that many middle and high school students – especially black and Latino students – are still struggling to attain mathematical proficiency as measured by standardized assessments. These disparities persist through higher education – in 2013,less than six percent of math doctorates were black or Latino.
Many middle and high schools – especially those that serve low-income populations – lack the math content and tools necessary to adequately prepare students for the 21st century. At the same time, a growing number of classrooms are beginning to implementpersonalized or integrated instructional approaches that require teachers to craft multidimensional, interdisciplinary learning experiences for students of widely varying math abilities. Against this backdrop, we believe that edtech developers will play a crucial role within an emergent ecosystem of resources that enable new opportunities for math teaching and learning.
The Middle & High School Math Ed Tech Challenge is open to companies and nonprofits working to build instructional content, assessments and other digital tools that support middle and high school (6th-12th grade) students’ development of mathematical knowledge, skills and mindsets. Special consideration will be given to technologies that are accessible and usable by a wide range of children – especially traditionally underserved student populations – as well as products that take advantage of the latest research on learning and advances in mobile and social technologies.
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Critical student needs: How technology can support middle and high school math
There are many opportunities for technology to support middle school and high school math learning. In the months leading up to the launch of the Middle & High School Math Ed Tech Challenge, we conducted market research, including conversations with a diverse group of educators and ed tech decision-makers, to learn more about challenges and opportunities in technology-enabled 6th-12th grade math learning. We expect that challenge winners will represent a wide range of approaches that are feasible for use in both traditional and personalized classrooms. We believe technology is especially well poised to create impact by:
Making learning accessible to students of all abilities and cultural backgrounds
Students in middle and high school math classrooms represent a wide range of educational and cultural backgrounds. Teachers are eager for tools to help personalize math learning based not only on students’ academic progress, but also their cultural backgrounds, personal interests and learning preferences. Educators also see an opportunity for technology to support differentiated math instruction for students of all reading levels, including English Language Learners.
Providing age-appropriate scaffolding for underdeveloped foundational concepts
Many students enter middle or high school lacking foundational math skills like number sense and fluency. Educators are looking for tools that enable multiple methods, pathways and representations, which can support struggling students as they progress toward grade-level proficiency. However, most of the tools that address elementary-level concepts are not designed for middle and high school students, decreasing the likelihood of sustained engagement. In addition, teachers are looking for ways to go beyond ‘drill and memorization’ to connect remediation with higher-level math thinking.
Enabling rich social interactions with peers and teachers
Technology can facilitate the transmission of real-time data among students and teachers, enabling formative, actionable feedback that can enrich the learning process. Importantly, these data hold the possibility of “go[ing] beyond ‘right’ and ‘wrong’”† to demonstrate the thinking behind students’ answers. In addition, creating opportunities for students to collaborate and learn from one another (in-person or virtually) can help them “discover new techniques for approaching problems and new attitudes that help them persevere” while building their communication skills.
Encouraging growth mindset, metacognition and agency
Students’ development of growth mindset can help reframe mathematical struggle and failure as “efforts and mistakes [that] are highly valued”. In addition, many technology-enabled math learning opportunities require a high degree of metacognition: For example, problem solving often requires students to self-regulate and seek out resources to help them acquire knowledge. Educators see opportunities for technology to support these practices while opening up increased possibilities for student voice and choicewithin the math classroom.
Creating opportunities to apply knowledge to real world challenges
Once students begin to develop new math knowledge, it’s important to provide opportunities to apply these learnings to the real world. Educators emphasize the importance of “practical and engaging real world applications”† for middle and high school students. Such an approach encourages students to “ask questions of data, map out mathematical pathways and reason quantitatively”, preparing them with skills that will remain valuable throughout their adult lives, regardless of their chosen profession.
†: Quotes from “NewSchools Ignite: Middle & High School Math Challenge market research interviews” (January-February 2016).