An algebra app developed through a partnership with the UF Lastinger Center for Learning and Study Edge is being used to teach students in all 67 Florida counties.
After 59 percent of Florida high school students who took the state's new Algebra I end-of-course exam last year passed the test, the Lastinger Center approached Study Edge to help with a web-based, interactive learning program for students. The app, called Algebra Nation, pulled teachers from Miami to the Florida panhandle to stand in front of the camera and make algebra videos.
Alicia Stephenson's Algebra I students at P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School were among the first in the state to use the app.
Stephenson said she heard about the app from a Lastinger Center employee last summer, when the project was just getting started.
She got involved and recorded a few videos, “then I just fell in love,” Stephenson said.
The Facebook platform really made a difference.
She noticed that even her students who never spoke up in class were posting on the algebra wall, asking and answering questions.
“It gave those students who were afraid to talk in class a voice,” she said.
Another effective feature, she said, is that students are able to see different teachers' explanations of the same concepts. Users have a choice between a faster- or slower-paced explanation by a tutor or algebra teacher, which appeals to students' different learning styles, Stephenson said.
Dvir, of the Lastinger Center, said that peer teaching, which happens on the algebra wall, is also one of the more effective ways to learn.
Stephenson agrees. “It gives them so many other opportunities that they don't have when they just have one teacher in a classroom,“ she said.
Stephenson's students also love the karma points — points awarded to students who provide a correct answer to another student on the algebra wall. The student who racks up the most karma points in any month can win an iPad.
Stephenson said she'll continue to use Algebra Nation this school year to help her students learn and to keep track of what concepts they have trouble with, so she can tailor her teaching to their needs.
Study Edge and the Lastinger Center try to stay responsive to teachers' and students' needs, too. A few months after the app launch, as the 2013 Algebra I end-of-course exam approached, teachers started requesting study guides from Algebra Nation, since they weren't always able to print out full packets for an entire class at school. Study Edge responded by printing out entire 150-page booklets of the 12 study guides contained in the app and selling them to teachers for $2, including tax and shipping, Fieldman said. In the two weeks before the end-of-course exam, teachers ordered 3,000 of the booklets. Some teachers even used their own money.
This year, 64 percent of students passed the Algebra I end-of-course exam.