“Thanks coach!” are words you might hear in a locker room after a big game or on the bench after an overtime goal or after a student makes the team. You don’t usually hear this phrase in the context of academics, and certainly not about math. Last year, however, I heard these words daily from students across the greater Toronto area in exactly this context. Actually, they are usually typed out in an MSN-like chat, so it might be more like “THNX Co@cH!”
Last year I was the Toronto District School Board’s online “Math Coach,” an innovative way that the TDSB is using technology to reach students who are struggling in math. Math Coach is part of a strategy to support high-needs inner city secondary schools throughout the GTA. Attendance and student engagement are common issues at these schools.
Grade 9 and 10 students are able to access Math Coach by connecting to an online meeting room where they can pose their questions and work on an interactive whiteboard with support from the “coach” Monday to Friday from 8:30 to 3:30. It’s a venue where students can actively engage in a discussion about math throughout the day.
The technology is the hook. Students are already so comfortable communicating in this milieu—it’s something that has been a part of their entire lives. Once they get connected to this resource, many of them return daily. These are students who are struggling, and probably have struggled for a while with their math skills. Now they are seeking out time during the day to get on to Math Coach and talk about math. It’s a monumental shift for them.
Students don’t need to be at school to receive this support. All they need is Internet access and minimal software and hardware. I often work with students who are at home on a school day for various reasons. I’m not going to judge them, or even ask why they are home. I’m just glad they’ve arrived at the site. It shows they value their education.
Math Coach is not limited to frequently absent students, however. Many teachers use Math Coach as a “second teacher” in the class, leaving it open for students to access during work time. Special education and resource classes have also made great use of Math Coach.
I worked with one student in particular in a credit-recovery class. This is a student who was almost at graduating age, but was lacking several math credits. He had access to a computer and even a headset at a private carrel in the class. We worked together over an hour every day. As a result of this student’s incredible determination and hard work he was able to acquire all his needed credits and graduate on time.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tim Millan is a TDSB math teacher who has worked with special needs students struggling in math for over 10 years. Tim.firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Sept/Oct 2012 Issue.