By Kim Walter
STRASBURG -- Jeff Wile will be the first to admit that he has a somewhat dorky side, but that doesn't bother him, since he's used his computer programming background to create a different kind of educational tool.
Wile, an eighth-grade math teacher at Signal Knob Middle School, recently released his very own free app for iPads: WileDMath.
The second year teacher realized the functionality of iPads after using one that his wife purchased a year and a half ago.
"I was able to hook it up to my Smartboard and put all my lessons on it," Wile said. "It freed me up to walk around the classroom more and really interact with my students."
Since then, Wile has purchased his own iPad, and decided to take on a new challenge. With his experience in computer programming, Wile began the task of learning the "language" necessary to create an app. The coding and design took months after he got the initial idea for an app in September of last year.
"The math apps that are available now are really game oriented, and focus a lot on basic skills ... they're very '2+2=4 oriented,'" he said. "The math learned in middle school and high has kind of gotten lost in the shuffle, so I decided to take math apps into my own hands."
In October and November, Wile focused on the content of the app. His original product was released just two weeks ago, and contained 18 categories of math and three associated games.
Instead of teaching kids through games, Wile's app challenged students with questions in a variety of categories, including geometry I and II, algebra, graphs, percentages, square roots, probability and the pythagorean theorem. As app users answer questions, they also build up a bank of credits, which can be used to play games.
"This way, we're using math to get to the "fun," but the fun also includes math," Wile said.
Wile's programming made the app self generating -- essentially, there are an infinite number of questions that users will have to answer. Wile said he didn't want it to be an app that would be played a few times and then lose its purpose.
"A few of the scenarios for probability questions, for instance, will repeat, but the numbers will keep changing," he said.
Wile already has made several updates to the app, which he is submitting for approval this week, and which should be available in the next two weeks. He's designed an all-math keyboard, unique to the app, a reset feature, and a way to view the "breakdown results."
"So, basically I could have a student answer questions in a few categories, and then as a teacher I just press this button and I get to see exactly where the student is struggling," he said. Wile's students gave input while he was in the designing process.
The update also provides three more categories of math, as well as an additional game.
"It's an ongoing project," he said. "Right now it will be really beneficial for students anywhere from sixth grade to 10th grade, but I want to keep expanding."
Currently, the app is free and only available for download onto an iPad. While he can't yet assign homework using the app, he said he knows it will come in handy during instruction time, as Signal Knob has a Discovery Zone which provides students with about 30 iPads and iPods.
"I can have a student who's struggling go to the Discovery Zone and practice questions on a certain category of math, or I can schedule my entire class to use the zone one day and everyone will be able to use the app," he said.
At one point, Wile dreamed of teaching programming. Now, the dream is a possibility.
"I think it would be so cool to teach a class of kids who want to get into programming. It could be something where at the end of the school year each student has developed and could launch their own app," he said. "And the great part of that is that you have to use math to program, so its a win-win."
Wile expected the app would get "10 or 12 downloads," mostly by friends and family. Now, two weeks after it was made available, WileDMath has been downloaded 535 times and counting.
"It's awesome," he said. "Now I want to get to 1,000, though."
The app has a Facebook page as well. Wile said users have posted to the page, letting him know what they like and what they don't like.
"I was surprised by the number of adults who said it was helpful in brushing up on their math skills," he said.
The questions asked through the app can also help students prepare for math SOLs -- a subject in which students across the country struggled last year.
"By the end of a student's 12th-grade year, the result shouldn't be that they memorized a bunch of formulas to pass a test," Wile said. "A student needs to understand the formulas and which numbers to plug in. Most importantly, they need to know how to use that knowledge in real life ... it's all about application, and I hope this app helps students along the way."
WileDMath is available for iPad download through the iTunes store. To learn more about ongoing updates and to give feedback, visit the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Wiledmath.
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org