Getting kids to practice math during the summer while they are out of school is important, but it's a monumental task. Most students have other things besides addition and subtraction on their mind when the weather gets warm and the sun comes out. Without a teacher standing over their shoulder, encouraging them to finish the most recent math activity, students aren't likely to do any math at all.
As a teacher, what can you do when the kids are at home, especially during the COVID-19 crisis, when most teachers haven't seen their students since Spring Break?
The easy, fun, and effective answer is to set up a summer math challenge using math apps. Not only will it help them practice math now, but it can also help ensure they're ready to start learning new skills in the fall.
Summer learning loss is very real. Students lose almost three months' worth of math skills over the summer, which sets teachers back at the beginning of the school year in the fall, when everyone should be picking up where they left off at the end of the last school year.
It's especially challenging in 2020 when students have already been attempting to learn from home for months before summer vacation even started. The potential exists for students to fall even further behind than they are with the nearly three months of learning loss mentioned above. Without direct, in-person instruction from a teacher, it is expected that every student will be at a different place in their learning, which could make classroom instruction even more challenging when school picks up again in the fall.
Encouraging students to practice math outside of school is the best way to reduce learning loss and help students to be as prepared as possible for school come September.
A lot of pieces have to fall in place for students to learn and for that learning to stick. The quality of the materials, the teaching strategies, and the environment all play a role, but so does fun.
Neuroscience shows that when fun in the classroom stops, learning stops, too. There are many ways to make learning fun, but while the kids are at home during the summer, the best answer is math apps.
Most students are very motivated to play games on mobile devices, so providing them with math apps over the summer can be a great way to encourage them to practice when traditional methods like worksheets won't work. It's also easy for parents because no prep or planning is needed!
The question is, what kind of apps are best for a summer math challenge?
When choosing math apps for a summer math challenge, it's beneficial to avoid apps that contain information that they haven't learned yet. Apps are best, especially over the summer, when they allow students to practice information they have already learned from a teacher. It prevents the possibility of learning something incorrectly, and it can prevent frustration, which can cause students to stop playing the game. Choosing apps like this is easier for parents, too, as there's no need for them to provide supplemental instruction as their children play.
One great choice is the Let's Play School math app from edHelper. This very simple, yet fun app, allows students to practice their math skills by answering equations and earning points for correct answers. Those points are then used to ensure food that is being produced by the bakery gets eaten, so it doesn't reach the bottom of the screen.
Other versions of this game will allow students to match up equations with answers, for example, which will keep the game new and interesting. Settings in the game include equations that are appropriate for students who have finished first through sixth grades. Students can alter the difficulty level according to what's appropriate for them.
One of the biggest benefits of this app is that it's very teacher friendly. Teachers simply register and give their students a class code so they can play for free. Teachers can then see which students are playing and how they're doing, which makes it a great option for a summer math challenge.
It only takes about four or five minutes of play time per day, making it a simple and reasonable game students can play every single day.
There are many other math games out there that are great for kids to play during the summer. Just a few others you may want to consider include:
Prodigy is an adaptive learning platform that offers students differentiated instruction.
CK-12 integrates video lectures, photo galleries, and other unique features to keep learning interesting.
Rocket Math combines math and science with the capability for teachers to track student progress.
Splash Math adapts to each child's level, encouraging self-paced learning.
Just make sure you don't overwhelm your students with apps to choose from, especially if you plan on using the apps as part of a summer challenge, and you want to track their progress. Choose just one or two apps so that you can focus their attention-and you have fewer sets of data to keep track of.
You're more likely to encourage students to keep practicing their math facts over the summer when you allow them to do it with math games and apps. However, that doesn't mean the app or apps you choose will hold their attention for the weeks and months that they will be encouraged to play.
If you want your students to play the app over and over again, you may want to incentivize them to play using prizes or extra credit. Students can start the school year off with extra credit, or they can trade in the points they accumulate over the summer for a prize on the first day of school.
This may require you to work with other teachers, as you may be tracking your students' progress and reporting that progress to the teachers they will have next year. This may also be something that the office administrators, the school counselor, or the building's math specialist may want to spearhead. Students could go to the office to get their prize, or all of the teachers in the building could report their students' progress for the math specialist to keep track of.
Don't let your students forget about months' worth of learning over the summer! Using math games and math apps, you can encourage students to practice important math facts and strategies that will give them a leg up in the classroom when school starts again in the fall.