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Online math offers both problems and solutions

Bear River Math Teacher Vicki Burrell simultaneously instructs both in-person and online students utilizing the online platform Zoom on March 25. Photo by Alli Whiting

Math has always been a subject many Bruins struggle with, but with COVID-19 restrictions forcing students to take math classes fully or partially on Zoom, how has learning math changed?

Math can be very complicated, and some students have a hard time learning the subject due to this complexity. Typically teachers are able to give students direct and personal instructions as well as one-on-one help in class. At least, this used to be the case before COVID-19 appeared on the scene. Students and teachers are now forced to social distance or work through an online platform, Zoom, making it harder for students to receive individual help from teachers. But how do the students themselves feel about this change in class structure?

To many students like Junior Cheyenne Swenson, asking questions and interacting with people online is awkward. 

“Math over Zoom is ok,” she said, “I feel a little uncomfortable asking questions over a screen because it’s so foreign. I’d much prefer to be in-person.”

Junior Conner Beatte also believes math classes conducted in-person are easier than over Zoom. 

“In my opinion, math classes over zoom are slightly more challenging than in-person [classes] because if you need help on a specific problem or problem set, the teacher can’t come over to your desk and show you how to complete the equation step by step,” he said. “This in-turn makes it difficult because some students (like me) need that one-on-one help.”

On the other hand, students like Junior Caitlin Parker see very little difference in the two class structures. “I think that my math class over Zoom hasn’t honestly been that different from normal math class for me,” she said, “I struggle to maintain my grade at what I want it to be (which is an A) in a normal year and it’s honestly been about the same amount of struggle this year. For me, there are some concepts in math that I just don’t get and never will, so Zoom really hasn’t changed that.”

Math Teacher Gayne Nakano’s perspective is that not much has changed on his part aside from a lack of instructional time to cover all the material. 

“The Zoom part has not changed my teaching that much,” he said, “I have had to learn how to use more technology.  The schedule has made it hard to cover the same amount of material as in the past.  We ‘see’ students less than half of the time we would normally see them.  Some students have adapted fairly well.  If they are mature enough to limit distractions(phones, pets, siblings, TV) at home, they do not get the distractions of other students in class.”

While Zoom math classes are not perfect, they do have some benefits over in-person math classes. Despite being a relatively new system, Zoom math classes have brought out some flaws in our old way of teaching math. It’s not all rainbows and sunshine with online math though, as several issues have come up. But what do the students who have to go through this system have to say about it?

Parker had good and bad things to say about the way online math classes work.“I think one pro of doing math over zoom meetings is that it’s easier for the teacher to see everyone’s answer since we all just type it in the chat.” She explained, “This makes it easy for [teachers] to see who’s close, who’s really far off, and who knows what they’re doing, which [they] tells us. It’s also easy for him to screen share and write out exactly what he wants us to do. The con is that turning our physical work in, which math has to be, can be a tad difficult because lighting has to be good and you have to have a decent camera with the correct formatting as well.”

Other students including Beatte had a less positive outlook on the topic.

“I feel there are no pros to attending classes on zoom,” he said. “the cons of attending a zoom class is there’s no interaction between students and there’s no one-on-one help from the teacher.”

Swenson however liked Zoom math classes and how they work.

“A pro I’d say is the comfort,” she said. “In class, you can sometimes feel uncomfortable for how pressured you feel to say the right answer; keep up with everyone else. Getting to stay in your personal space while learning something that everyone has different speeds to is comparably easier on one’s self I believe.”

Mr. Nakano was pleased with the results Zoom had given him.

“I am going to use Zoom even when we return to “normal” classes,” he elaborated. “I have been able to get much more feedback from more students when their questions and responses are anonymously given. I think that every teacher would rather be teaching in person.”

Personally, math has never been that hard for me, even after switching to the online platform. In fact, I actually prefer Zoom math classes over in-person math classes. I like Zoom math classes better because I can be anonymous about having difficulty with really minor things that most people wouldn’t have trouble with. I also like that I can give answers without having other people cheat off of my answers since they can’t see my work to cheat off of it. 

Although not everyone likes them, Zoom math classes aren’t that bad. There are some benefits, but there are also consequences. In time we might get tired of it and want to go back to regular, in-person classes, but the alternative we have now works well. 

Parker had one piece of advice to share with her fellow math students. 

“Go to office hours,” she said, “I know it’s not something anyone wants to do, I really don’t like doing it when I need to, but they do help. It’s easy to be lazy, I would know, but if you just go for the ten minutes it takes for the teacher to explain it gets so much easier. Guessing on the homework works because it only marks you down a few points, but on a test, it puts a dent in your grade and that’s not fun to have to fix. So my advice is to get help when you need it, even if it takes a little time.”

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Online math offers both problems and solutions