Digital Tools to Improve Interactivity and Engagement in Math Instruction (2024)

Education is continually evolving. With constant technological advancements, globalization, and changing workforce requirements, our traditional models of education have had to shift to prepare our students for the modern world (Hussanisoyat, 2024). One of the most prominent changes to the educational system has been the integration of technology in the classroom. Advancements in digital technology have given teachers new tools to increase interactivity and engagement among students (Digout & El Samra, 2023). Research has revealed increased engagement and learning among students interacting with technology, making it a popular and impactful instructional method (Lucas et al., 2021). A high level of student interaction with their teacher, peers, and content lead to higher academic achievement, lower dropout rates, and higher satisfaction with their educational experience. Likewise, students experiencing high levels of engagement when they perceive instructional material as meaningful and relevant to them are more focused and motivated to learn (Digout & El Samra, 2023).

An advantage of digital learning is that it has been shown to increase interactivity and engagement through tools such as digital game-based learning (DGBL), gamification, simulations, and virtual reality (Digout & El Samra, 2023). Dugout and El Samra (2023) also state that technology allows for immediate feedback, leading to increased interaction. Additionally, Moon and Ke (2020) found that the integration of technology tools in the math classroom can reduce students’ math anxiety and improve engagement.

However, there are also challenges associated with the implementation of technology. Unlike previous studies where it was determined technology had a positive influence on student achievement, Kaminskiene, Jarvela, and Lehtinen (2022), found that the relationship had mixed results on a large-scale international level. These findings were largely attributed to the variation in quality of implementation that existed due to the level of teachers’ technology knowledge and skills (Kaminskiene et al., 2022). Merely providing online platforms and technological tools is not effective if teachers do not receive adequate training on how to implement them in their classrooms (Vinnervik, 2020). I have personally experienced this lack of training at my current school. Last year, our math department used funds to purchase Wacom tablets for all the teachers to improve student-teacher interaction and engagement. After months of sitting on a shelf, the tech department held a professional development session to demonstrate their capabilities. Unfortunately, the department wasn’t familiar with the device, so the training was not helpful. In May, our school district announced that each classroom would be receiving a SMART board this fall. However, teachers were told that the district would work on setting up training “sometime next year”. More tech, no training, and teachers left on their own to figure it out. Another challenge teachers face is poor information technology (IT) infrastructure. If teachers are constantly battling poor network connections, inoperable devices, having to share devices with other classrooms, synchronization issues, and lack of tech support, they will forgo the frustration and avoid technology because it can’t be trusted to work when needed (Vinnervik, 2020).

Even with all the challenges surrounding technological tools, they have proven useful in improving student interaction and engagement. Here are three online platforms and tools that I find to be beneficial for math instruction:

Skew the Script (https://skewthescript.org/) was created by a teacher with the sole purpose of increasing student engagement. Tired of math problems that students didn’t find interesting or relevant to their lives, he created engaging lessons using real data to solve world problems students could relate to. The lessons are not a complete curriculum, but rather, engaging supplemental resources including videos, data sets, student handouts, and slide decks all ready to use and aligned with curriculum standards and common textbooks. Skew the Script offers free lessons for AP Statistics, Algebra I and II courses, with plans to add more courses. All materials are available as YouTube videos, pdf files, editable Word documents, PowerPoint slides, and links to Desmos (discussed later). While the lessons are intuitive, online and in-person workshops are offered, as well as “boot camps” for students and teachers interested in learning more about data science and AI. Skew the Script tools can be used synchronously in class; the videos could be played on a projector or SMART board and handouts could be printed and distributed or assigned on Google Classroom. Some schools use the materials asynchronously in “flipped classrooms” or remote learning with the materials shared through Google Classroom.

Khan Academy (https://khanacademy.org) is a free, personalized, online learning platform for students, families, and teachers. The site can be accessed on any PC, laptop, or mobile browser. Khan Academy offers complete math courses (as well as other core and elective courses) for kindergarten to college students, broken down by units consisting of instructional videos on YouTube, interactive practice problems, and assessments. Teachers can set up classes of students and assign entire units which can be completed in class or remotely, as well as utilize separate tools for individual students for differentiation. Teachers can keep track of data by having students set up accounts using school email addresses. Khan Academy is continually adding resources to improve student engagement—teachers can make use of choice boards, Bingo boards, punch cards, certificates, and coupons to keep students motivated. In 2023, Khan Academy launched Khanmigo, which offers free AI powered tools teachers can use to create lesson plans and materials, and differentiate texts. Whether a teacher needs additional instructional videos and practice for students struggling with a concept, lesson plans for a substitute teacher, or entire units of instruction, Khan Academy is an easy to use, interactive resource.

Desmos (https://www.desmos.com/) is a free, interactive graphing tool available on the web, as well as iOS and Android apps. The tool allows students to easily plot data points, graph equations, transform and analyze functions, and perform regressions. An interactive slider tool allows students to investigate the effects of variables on graphs. The graphs are cleaner than a graphing calculator and easier to manipulate, and eliminate the need to purchase an expensive graphing calculator that may not be needed for more than one course. No account set-up is required, but a free account does allow the user to save and store graphs. In 2023, Desmos added a Geometry Tool in which 2D and 3D geometrical shapes can be created. The site includes user guides, tutorials, professional development, and a help center for users in need of assistance. Through Desmos Classroom, teachers have access to digital lessons for grades 6 through Algebra I; some resources are free, but others require a year-long subscription. To demonstrate the ease of use, I am sharing an Algebra I activity that uses Desmos to solve systems of linear equations: Desmos System of Linear Equations Activity .

Technology is changing the way the teachers deliver academic content. New learning platforms and tools can increase interactivity and engagement. However, technological tools should be viewed as a method to enhance instruction. Other instructional methods such as problem-based, collaborative, and experiential learning can also be used to improve student interaction and engagement (Digout & El Samra, 2023). A 2021 study determined that the effectiveness of digital tools and applications depended on how well they helped achieve instructional goals (Kaqinari et al., 2021). So while I have highlighted several useful digital tools for use in mathematics classrooms, it’s important to remember that technology should be regarded as a learning tool, “not the focal point of classroom instruction” (Schrum, 2018, p. 74).

Digital Tools to Improve Interactivity and Engagement in Math Instruction (2024)

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