Monday, January 16, 2017

10 Q&As with John McGowan - the STEM Texthelper!

By now, you’ve probably heard some mumblings about Texthelp and our newest product g(Math), a tool that is making math digital. You may be saying to yourself, “But I thought Texthelp was all about tech for reading and writing?” And we were. Until John McGowan, the developer of g(Math), joined the team and we added math to our portfolio.

To learn more about John’s story, the history of g(Math), and what’s coming up next, we sat down with John for a brief Q&A. Check it out here!
1. What did you do before joining Texthelp?
Prior to Texthelp, I spent more than a decade teaching math to students at all levels across the United States, Asia and South America.

2. When did you first discover the value of leveraging technology in the math classroom?
Back in college, I took Calculus III with a very influential professor. While uncommon at the time, this professor frequently leveraged computers and advanced modeling to engage his students with the subject matter. This sparked my interest in combining math and technology in the classroom.

3. When you started teaching, did you work to integrate computers and technology into your classrooms as well?
I tried, but it didn’t catch on as well as I’d hoped. I realized it was very hard to teach Middle School and High School students how to type math, since that requires knowledge of advanced programming languages like LaTeX. So, students preferred to handwrite functions rather than use computers.

4. Why was it so important for you to get your students to use computers in the math classroom?
Technology brings a certain excitement to the room. Today’s students have grown up with technology and use it throughout the day - both for fun and educational purposes. So, as soon as I asked my students to put their computers away and take out their pencil and paper, I could see them mentally shut down and disengage with the material.

5. Is this where g(Math) comes in?
Yes. I saw this as a personal challenge to overcome. So, I started learning code, specifically Google Apps Script, in order to develop a program that enabled students to use technology to do math without extensive knowledge of advanced programming languages. The final result - g(Math).

6. What was the response to g(Math)?
I was blown away by the response. My students loved working with g(Math), and it was wonderful to see so many of them re-engage with the material. However, I was even more surprised by the response from teachers. After using g(Math), teachers saw the value of bringing technology into the classroom. Not only did g(Math) assist student’s efforts, but it also improved teaching efficiency. It was a win-win for everyone, and it became a top priority of mine to continue to grow and improve the tool so that everyone could experience the value of digital math.

7. How did you know Texthelp was the right choice to take g(Math) to the next level?
Creating math digitally is in fact an accessibility problem, and Texthelp is the leading provider of accessible solutions. Plus, their support team is top-notch and their development team knows how to work with Google products. After all, Texthelp was named the 2015 Google Technology Partner of the Year and they have over 5 million Read&Write for Google Chrome users.

8. Texthelp has historically been very literacy focused. Has it been challenging to introduce a math product into the mix? Were you concerned that Texthelp was too literacy focused?
Not at all. In fact, I believe that math is a form of communication just like reading or writing. “Show your work” is a common phrase heard in every math classroom. That’s because math is more about explaining how you got your answer rather than the answer itself. g(Math) introduces a digital way for students to easily demonstrate and communicate their thinking. Moreover, Texthelp is fundamentally about helping individuals understand and be understood, which transcends all subjects.

9. What’s it been like working with Texthelp so far? 
It’s been great! Since joining Texthelp, we’ve really taken g(Math) to the next level. Within the first few months, we’ve accomplished so much and received great feedback from both old and new g(Math) users. I can guarantee that even bigger and better updates are on the way!

10. Can you tell us anything about the future of g(Math)?
We have a lot planned. First of all, we don’t want to limit ourselves to math. We want to support other STEM subjects through the product, most notably science. Second, we really want to beef up the prediction feature. We want teachers and students at all levels and skill sets to be able to sit down with g(Math) for the first time and write out an equation without any prior training or knowledge. Finally, and most importantly, we want it to meet the needs of our users - the students and teachers that experience the benefits of making math digital.