I‘ll be up front; Wayne Loutet was my Grade 9 math teacher.

Depending on whether you liked math or not, you may be wondering where my bias might lie. Or why I’m writing about a math teacher.

In Grade 8 I was a typical math student. Although I was pretty good at it, I really had no passion or interest. Then in Grade 9 that all changed in Loutet’s class. His approach was based on a self-paced approach to really embedding the basic operations and rules you would need to be successful in higher math.

Fast forward an undisclosed number of decades and ‘Mr. Loutet’ is still at it, teaching in local schools across the Cowichan Valley.  He grew up here and has attended or taught at just about every school in and around the Valley. And after decades of seeing the same learning issues and refining his strategies for creating success in the classroom, he figured the new technology would be a good way to broaden the reach of his approach.

Loutet has developed an app to help teachers and students learn basic arithmetic skills. Normally this encompasses all of the basic skills and operations required as a grounding in the higher areas of math like algebra and calculus. It’s similar to learning the multiplication facts (tables?) before moving up to middle school math, but it’s learning the basic rules and operations that  apply to basic arithmetic and the higher maths as well.

“I want every student to be successful” Loutet said, when asked about his reasons for developing the application.  But he went on to say that it’s more than that; it’s about creating what he calls ‘mastery’.

He uses sports as an analogy.”For example, if you can make 50% of penalty throws in basketball, what are your odds of making five baskets in a row?” he asked. “Well, it’s not 50% but something closer to 3%. And that’s what happens in higher level math that require multiple steps and skills.

There are a number of reasons why all teachers don’t use mastery , according to Loutet, that include things like time, the ability to constantly generate new material, and the time required to do the marking and feedback.

“We overcome all that with this series of apps, ” said Loutet, adding “The feedback is important, as is the data the teacher receives as to number of errors that occur most often, and number of times tried to make each mastery level. Data is useful, so let’s use it to improve the process.”

The basic premise is a constant quiz-evaluate-correct cycle but not the normal tests that give students the jitters. Rather the tests are a dynamic part of the process that lets students understand the areas they need to adjust and then quickly re-test themselves. It removes ‘testing’ as a negative from the student’s mind and instead makes it a fun challenge, increasing  engagement and learning.

What Loutet has realized and tested in classrooms locally is that he can push “mastery’ up to 80%  while still teaching 30+ class sizes by making software do the heavy work of evaluation and re-testing. The software that he wrote utilizes a series of algorithms to create an almost infinite number of quizzes keyed to each student’s level and mastery target. He can generate millions of unique quizzes that he can grade and enter into the system in 30 seconds each. The student then gets customized feedback and a new quiz designed to re-test their weaker area.

On top of that the system tracks everything making it easy to give parents useful feedback.While teachers can still be there helping individuals with individual issues, the process is entirely student centered and self-paced. That means the students who excel more quickly can advance on their own, leaving the teacher free to help those that are stuck at certain points.

This approach mimics what happened in my Grade 9 class with Loutet, but without the worksheets and paper.

“Not only are we marketing to teachers, schools and districts, but also to Private schools, home schools, and individual parents who want to make sure their son or daughter has the basics down pat,” Loutet said. He hopes that as teachers become aware of it they will begin to use it directly in their classrooms with students.

The initial modules will cover 16 key concepts in arithmetic operations at 8 levels with an individual mastery level that can be set for every student. Future modules are under construction that will delve into higher math skills in algebra.

For me, it’s great to see a teacher I’ve always admired still passionate about the subject he taught me, but it’s also great to see local people creating world class products and ideas in our Valley. Loutet has even done a pre-audition for Dragon’s Den.

Thanks Mr. Loutet.

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