mathemachic x shopaholic

Years ago, walking into your typical and universal mall during the holiday season, entangled in the hustle and bustle of commercialism and consumerism can be overwhelming to some, while others flourish at the event to push through. Most lean toward an easy and generic action that ultimately results in the purchasing of gift cards, socks, candles etc., with the accompanying stress and anxiety of the oh, so special holiday spirit of “giving the perfect gift.”

Now fast forward to the present, where this scenario still does exist; yes, but now with other options to still support our societal lust for spending, but in an all too different format. Whether buying for yourself, or for others, has changed due to improvement and heightened awareness of the customer experience. Online platforms, such as Amazon, Google Analytics, Facebook…are always working, collecting data to create custom algorithms to match your exact needs and wants. If you are still inclined to venture out into a mall, and enjoy the tangible sense of touching, seeing, and be “all-sensed” with your product before purchase, stores such as Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, and Aritzia etc. all have methods and avenues to enhance your shopping experience to also meet your exact needs and desires. Personalization. Not just “old-school” customization (will get to the differences later), but a tailored, and auto-created personal adventure to you to reach your goals and feel good about it, at the same time.

Yes, I’m a shopper. Not just a shopper, but a self-proclaimed addicted passionate clientele of the economic world of consumerism. Although it has it’s pros and cons, and that’s for discussion at another time, and for another blog site, the purpose of this analogy of personalization in the shopping industry is a perfect and authentic segue to teaching, student learning, and the progress a path of future education.

Buzzwords and terms such as Personalized Learning, Differentiation, Customization have been recently scattered and used, some more recent than others, of late, in the education field. Unfortunately the terms, to an unknowing person, are often used either mixed-up or misused; however, it is imperative to clear up and outline, that all these of these terms are not synonymous with each other, and hold highly different meanings.

“The difference between personalization and customization lies with who is making the changes. … Personalization is achieved through customer data and predictive technology. Customization is achieved when a user manually makes changes to achieve his preferred experience.” (Davis 2018)

So in shopping terms: I go online, put in my exact measurements and a shirt is created for me, using the data I manually put in myself: That’s customization. Meanwhile, I could also go online, login, and be provided with five or six suggestions for shirts that I may be interested in purchasing, in my size, that have been chosen for me, using information from my previous shopping history and browser data for that store. That’s personalization.

To me, the later is more effective, useful, and a positive experience, since it is a natural path of where I may already be going. Sure. Sometimes I may want to vear off my “predictive” choices; but for the most part, my attitude and desire to return increases with the ease and pace of personalization.

Enter education. To date, most educational institutions (and still some to this day: looking at you post secondary education) have been a universal atmosphere of all must fit the mould. Over the years, differentiation made its appearance, with alterations and modifications to the common and “one size fits all” model. Think petite and plus size clothing in shopping terms. Differentiation still has its place; however, we suggest that our students today are the consumers of education, as similarly in the economic world, then why aren’t we providing them with a better and enhanced learning experience that allows them to learn, gather, produce, and grow with predictive data to support their own individual paths?

Mathematics is a discipline of problem solving, procedure, process, practice, and proof. As well as it may play into my alliterative description; personalization doesn’t naturally lend itself to the study of mathematics, especially in a educational institutions.

So I’m here to challenge this. Try. Question assumptions and failure and try again along the way to answer this question: How do I, as an educator foster and encapture personalized learning for my students?

To begin, I have to break down what my goals are. Backward design to what am I ultimately trying to achieve, for my students, and what do I want them to achieve as learners?

Growth, change, reflection, inquiry, and confidence etc., are all things that immediately come to mind. As one could rhyme off all the possible verbs to associate with the purpose and value of learning, narrowing it down is hard. Using the NCTM’s Principles to Actions: Ensuring Mathematical Success for All; and the eight teaching mathematics practices to guide my thoughts, I eventually came to the following:

Agents of change and mathematical decision makers.

Dissected: I ultimately want my students to experience math through the lens of discovery of new ideas and concepts, while also having courage and determination to choose a particular answer, based on prior knowledge and confidence in their beliefs and skills. (note how I’m steering away from procedure…)

So how to structure (umm…unstructure) math learning to create a personalized experience for a group of students in one environment, without fancy algorithms to predict for me, for them? Elements. Definitely in need of some grounding elements.

After much researching and collaboration with my colleague, Lianna Krantzberg, on personalizing mathematics, I have learned that although personalization is just that for students, a predictive path of growth and opportunity, the framework for the classroom in its instruction, learning, and process, is a more customizable approach by the teacher. Although rooted in the same foundations, she, with her Primary school lens has elements that revolve around student-driven activities and co-created goals. Students devoting time to learn about themselves to identify strengths, weaknesses, and how to effectively tap into those skills to be successful in their own math learning. With my middle school hat on, have chosen to use four foundational blocks from Janice Largo:

  • Targeted Instruction
  • Data-Driven Decisions
  • Flexible Content
  • Student Reflection and Ownership

Targeted instruction to the needs, requirements, and learning skill(s) strengths of the student. Students recognizing their learning profiles.

Data-Driven Decisions based on diagnostic pre-testing and of learning, to monitor and create next-steps based on student results. Also referred to a student’s “play list” Also analytic measurement to track student progress and growth.

Flexible Content in strands and problems to provide high interest and highly motivated engagement. Flexibility also in delivery of information that adapts to the needs of each student.

Student Reflection and Ownership to look back and make connections between what worked, what can be changed, and what next steps could be with realization of student achievement based on student involvement and dedication to learning.

In the middle school, I can already picture this being fostered through Performance Based Assessments, and Problem-Based Explorations. Students taking on discovery and inquiry to push their own learning further to seek, learn, and apply math concepts and skills to prove and justify their reasoning of a response or answer.

Next steps? Still lots to uncover, learn, try, and try again…

One thing I know, as much as Spotify will continue to create playlists based on my recent song choices, and with Nordstrom providing me with samples of brands and clothes to try based on my last purchases, then my students will receive and experience similar customer service through having their own personal shopper to pull personalized items based on their latest achievements, marks, and successes.

…now if only I could predictively place ads for their math “playlist” next-steps on their Fortnite and tiktok accounts…

Work Cited

Davis, Phil. “What Is the Difference Between Personalization and Customization?” Email Intelligence, Email Validation, Email Append, 5 Nov. 2018,

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