Sometimes Things Just Don't Compute…

How does a teacher, who doesn’t realize a student has a problem, help them overcome it?

The genesis of how DreamBox does assessment, and one of the reasons I am with the company, occurred over 30 years ago when one of my relatives was diagnosed with a learning disability.

This surprised us and shocked his teachers, who considered him to be in the upper middle to top third of the class for math. His test scores consistently supported this. In many areas he was significantly ahead of his peers. Yet a detailed examination with an expert showed that for him division just didn’t compute. Put another way, his brain simply wasn’t “wired for division”.

What does this mean? Well, you could ask him something like “If there are four children and each one has three oranges, how many oranges are there in total?” and you’d get the correct answer every time. If you instead asked “If I have twelve oranges and am going to give an equal number to each of four children, how many does each child get?” you might just as easily get an answer like “seven?” or “six” as “three”.

How had all the very good teachers at a very good school missed this through most of primary school? As it turns out, for a lot of years you can do pretty well at math tests if you get close to 100% of all the questions correct that don’t involve division. Or if the teacher only removes a few points for the “one little mistake” you made in the division part of a problem. Or if you have developed strategies to compensate that often approximate the correct answer, without understanding what you were doing.

The simple fact was that no-one over the years tracked the specific type of problems that caused difficulties for this student. And – this being a traditional “English” school – most teachers were more interested with how many answers were correct than how those answers were obtained.

DreamBox Learning Personalizes Online Math Education

So when we started working on what became DreamBox math I wanted to develop a system that would analyze each action the student took as they made it and respond accordingly, adapting automatically to provide the structured support each student needs as they need it. I also wanted a system that could provide specific feedback to parents and teachers identifying not only areas of strength but also weakness. It didn’t take long to realize that a system that adapts like this would work for all ages and skill levels.

DreamBox Learning K-2 Math is our first small step towards this goal and by all accounts is helping children across the spectrum learn math. Though specifically designed for home use, this version is already in use in over 800 schools and is proving particularly valuable for teachers of remedial math.

No child should struggle with math because a learning problem goes undiagnosed and unaddressed. However, recent studies (such as that by the Education Trust that detail how some teachers “are just one chapter ahead of their students”) show that in some communities this is unfortunately not only possible, but likely.

So I am personally looking forward to working on a more school-oriented version of DreamBox, and to the day when DreamBox math is a valuable tool in every teacher’s toolbox for ensuring each of their students is successful at math, no matter what difficulties they may face.

Oh, and how did things turn out for my relative? Things were tough for him for a while. Eventually he became a spreadsheet guru and has created inventory and financial management systems for corporations in the U.S. and overseas.

Nigel Green

Director of Personalization @DreamBox_Learn | Developer of Continuous Assessment and Adaptation | Former Teacher | Professional Musician | Bellevue, WA