Yesterday I read that “Researchers at Southern Methodist University have found that personalizing algebra word problems to students’ interests can improve their performance.” It made me think of one of my earliest applications of technology to education.
I was teaching fifth grade and would create dittos with word problems that used my students’ interests and names. I thought I was was putting learning theory into practice by adding meaning and novelty to these math assignments. Before computers, this was a tedious and messy task. But then I got a computer and I could create these word problems once, save them, and the next year I’d just pull ’em up, change the names and perhaps a few of the other details (fifth graders’ interests were amazingly similar from one year to the next), and click print. Voilà! An updated, personalized worksheet.
As you can imagine, the findings of the SMU researchers did not surprise me much. Seems commonsensical. Nonetheless, it was nice to have a bit of validation that the extra time I spent to create those personalized worksheets may have paid off.