In the Tri City Herald a few days ago, there was an article about a middle school math teacher Jeremiah Robinson, in my home state of Washington, who has developed a tool for teaching math to visual learners. Having struggled with mathematical concepts himself and understanding that by the time a child reaches eighth grade they often unjustifiably label themselves as math incompetent, his simple tool speaks to many and has resulted in increased test scores among his students, and perhaps more importantly, a renewed sense of confidence in children who may have otherwise been lost.
His tool, called the “Equation Expert” is a simple plastic sheet utilizing a series of triangles on the front and back which represent different math problems including formulas for calculating distance and percentages. At the bottom of the sheet is a larger triangle which is to be used as a template for solving various problems. Students essentially “plug in” the numbers of the problem at hand.
According to Robinson, the important aspect of the Equation Expert is that it is visual. It is not about teaching a new way of doing math, just another way of actually showing the work through which they come to understand the concept and the process.
The story caught my eye because acknowledging the needs of visual learners is critical. This teacher was forced to take the matter into his own hands and spent hours of his own time and money developing the tool to reach a significant number of children who cannot make sense of abstract concepts without a visual component. The important thing is that visual learners will have their day. Their needs are being recognized beyond Popsicle sticks and the building blocks of the early years when math concepts are actually still concrete and easy to visualize. Whether it is pico projectors, interactive projectors, 3D projectors or the combination of a classroom projector and interactive whiteboard, display technology represents far more than shiny tools for privileged 21st Century classrooms. Science has made incredible strides in determining the need, and the display industry is keeping pace by offering technology solutions that can change the game for so many people. I have hope that truly meeting the needs of visual learners will soon make it to the top of the list of schools deluged by the number of students who learn this way.