This article is an adapted excerpt from the LD@school learning module, Technology for All: Supporting Students with LDs by Integrating Technology into Classroom Instruction; click here to access this module.
Many students struggle with math, but for students with learning disabilities (LDs) math may be even more challenging. Students with LDs may have trouble learning number facts, doing calculations, understanding visual-spatial relationships or solving math problems. Students with LDs may also have a history of academic failure, which can contribute to the development of learned helplessness in math. For some students, a fear of failure and low academic self-concept can lead to math related anxiety.
The role of educators in teaching mathematics is to help students transfer their mathematical understanding from concrete to representational and then to abstract concepts. To support this process and increase student confidence in math, technological tools, also known as assistive technology (AT), may prove effective. Technology can be a powerful tool to enhance student learning and promote mastery of 21st century competencies, because of its ability to (Vaughn & Bos, 2009):
- increase student engagement and achievement by providing ways to situate learning in the real world as well as multiple and varied representations of complex concepts;
- assist in assessment practices, particularly assessment for learning and assessment as learning, which facilitate instructional decision-making; and
- facilitate communication and collaboration among students, parents, and educators.
This article presents a number of AT tools that can help students to acquire, strengthen, and express their understanding of mathematical concepts.
While the use of calculators can level the playing field for students with LDs, some research has shown that calculators may actually provide unfair advantage (Bouck & Flanagan, 2009). For this reason, it is important for educators to critically assess what the learning objectives are for the particular task and whether the use of a calculator would circumvent or assist the student in reaching this goal. Where appropriate, graphing calculators may be particularly effective because they provide visual confirmation of more abstract concepts. The added advantage of visual data can be highly motivating for students with LDs (Bethell & Miller, 1998). Additionally, and for all students, graphing calculators assist with higher order thinking associated with exploring patterns, problem solving, and working with real-world data.
Interactive whiteboard technology supports the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), which is important for all students and especially students with LDs (Perras, 2016). There are many interactive whiteboard software applications that effectively support mathematics instruction, including:
- shape editor
- Cartesian plane
One particularly useful function for students with LDs is the ability to record video presentations. Educators can record their lessons – perhaps as part of a flipped classroom approach – either during or outside of class, and make the recording available to students through a class website or via email. Students can then re-watch the lesson as many times as they need to without requiring any additional time with the educator.
There are also a wide range of interactive tools that can help students manipulate mathematical concepts at the representational level. For example, students may gain a better understanding of fractions by sharing parts of a whole (such as a pizza) or objects from a collection (such as pens or pencils), as well as by taking measurements of smaller parts of a bigger object. Using this kind of tool on an interactive whiteboard increases students’ interaction with the concepts, which can facilitate their learning.
Finally, some software that can be purchased for interactive whiteboards allow users to create diagrams or graphic organizers, which can be used to help students represent their thinking when solving word problems.
Dynamic Geometry Software
Many educators use dynamic geometry software because of its ability to:
- represent abstract mathematical concepts;
- make hypotheses;
- verify hypotheses; etc.
Some tools combine geometry, algebra, and operations. In class, animations can be used to demonstrate the reasoning behind certain formulas, for example, using rectangles to understand the area of a parallelogram.
Drills and Tutorials
Math drill programs can be an effective way for students to learn to mentally solve math problems (Adcock et al., 2010), they are also effective in increasing motivation and the addition and subtraction skills of students with dyscalculia (Amiripour, Bijan-zadeh, Pezeshki, & Najafi, 2011). Math Trek 1,2,3 is an example of software licensed by the Ministry of Education for use in the classroom.
Digital drills and tutorials are especially useful for math because they provide students with immediate feedback as they practice their abstract mathematical strategies. Educators can create their own drills or exercises using free online software, and students can complete the exercises on their computers, phones, or tablets.
It is important to plan for a short explanation after each question to clarify any common mistakes. For example, in a multiple choice quiz with a question about the area of a circle, one answer may correspond to the formula for circumference. Students who select this answer should be reminded of the difference between the two measurements.
Online math tutorials present structured explanations and exercises, and can allow educators to monitor students’ progress.
Additional resources for drills and tutorials:
- Khan Academy
Adcock, W., Luna, E., Parkhurst, J., Poncy, B., Skinner, C., & Yaw, J. (2010). Effective class-wide remediation: Using technology to identify idiosyncratic math facts for additional automaticity drills. The International Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy, 6, 111-123.
Amiripour, P., Bijan-zadeh, M. H., Pezeshki, P., & Najafi, M. (2011). Effects of assistive technology instruction on increasing motivation and capacity of mathematical problem solving in dyscalcula student. Educational Research, 2(10), 1611-1618.
Bethell, S. & Miller, N. (1998). From an E to an A in first year algebra with the help of a graphing calculator. Mathematics Teacher, 91, 118-119.
Bouck, E. & Flanagan, S. (2009). Assistive technology and mathematics: What is there and where can we go in special education. Journal of Special Education Technology, 24, 24-30.
Perras, C. (2016, February 18). Interactive Whiteboards: An Assistive Technology Tool for Students with LDs. Retrieved from www.ldatschool.ca
Vaughn, S. & Bos, C. (2009). Strategies for teaching students with learning and behaviour problems (7thed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ, Pearson.