Using computers to teach math

April 20, 2008 9:00:00 PM PDT
One third of all students entering high school are behind in math skills. Now, there is a high-tech way some teachers and students are tackling that problem and finding success.Education reporter Art McFarland has the story.

An algebra class at the High School for Health Professions and Human Services in Manhattan is for students who failed ninth-grade math. But this time around, they have help from computer software called Cognitive Tutor.

The program uses so-called artificial intelligence, and it's tailored to each individual.

"It figures out what the student's skills are and how the students understand particular problems based on what the student puts into the computer," teacher Kristi Cookson said.

One senior used it last year, then passed the class and the regents math test.

"It was fun," Shernet Stone said. "I enjoyed it. I know, it's a surprise, math, enjoyment, don't really go together. But I enjoyed it."

Research shows that students who use the Cognitive Tutor software improved their learning by as much as one letter grade.

It works because it guides the students, step by step. They know immediately if an answer is wrong. When they don't know what to do next, they can click on "hint" for guidance.

A bar chart measures the skills they've mastered. It turns from green to gold as they progress.

"When you excel, it shows," student Felix Davila said. "It gives you more courage to continue on."

In 2006, before the program, only 20 percent of students repeating 9th grade math passed.

"June 2007, the percentage rate went up to 52 percent," assistant principal for mathematics Jeanette Tomasullo-Morelli said. "Tremendous."

The school hopes to use the software for higher math courses in coming years.

For more on the software, click here.