Texas Teacher Takes TouchMath to Qatar

When Alyn Abbs arrived in Qatar to train elementary school teachers, she found herself in a very different place. She arrived in a country that is the world's fastest-growing economy, but where centuries-old traditions vie with modernization. Boys and girls are taught not just in separate classrooms but in separate schools. Women could teach boys only until the fifth grade. In the stifling Middle Eastern heat, female teachers and students wore abayas, shaylas and veils covering everything but their eyes.

While Alyn wasn't required to wear a veil or cover her head, she did wear long dresses with long sleeves. Her classroom was a sea of traditional attire, and English was a second language for her Arabic-speaking student teachers.

Fortunately, Alyn had TouchMath to help her bridge the cultural and language barriers.

Alyn had discovered TouchMath on her own while teaching in Texas. "I was in a little inner-city school and we really didn't have a lot of resources," she recalls. "Another teacher used TouchMath, and I picked it up from him. When I used it with my students it was very effective."

Alyn received a bachelor's degree in Special Education from Michigan State University and taught while studying for her master's degree and Ph.D. in Educational Psychology at Texas A&M.

Her Texas students were third-, fourth- and fifth-graders with moderate to severe disabilities. Many of them spoke Spanish as their first language. Even with these obstacles, she found TouchMath an invaluable teaching tool.

While Alyn was at Texas A&M, the university was invited by the Supreme Education Council of Qatar to participate in its Educational Reform Initiative in collaboration with the University of Qatar in Doha. The Arabian Gulf state had made a commitment to upgrade its educational system but had a serious shortage of trained teachers.

Before this initiative, many elementary school teachers had little to no training. Barred by tradition from teaching boys in higher grades, women were limited to elementary grades, while older boys were taught by male teachers from other Middle Eastern nations. Qatar's leader, Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, envisioned modernizing the country's educational system so its young people would not leave Qatar to pursue higher education. He sought to improve the country's K-12 system so they would be better prepared to attend universities at home.

Arabic has its own symbols for numbers, but Alyn's student teachers were learning to teach math in English, so they used the same numerals as the rest of the world (which are known, ironically, as Arabic numerals). In spite of the language barriers, TouchMath became a viable teaching supplement even in Qatar.

"I'm excited about it. One of my Qatar teachers has a class of fifth-grade boys, and she's successfully using TouchMath materials to help them understand multiplication and division."

Alyn plans to expand the use of TouchMath among Qatari teachers by providing them with more TouchMath materials, and even by introducing the program to teachers in rural schools outside of the capital city.

Meanwhile, Alyn is pleased to be part of "a phenomenal effort that Qatar has taken to make a positive change in its elementary schools." She's also helping Qatar's educational system achieve a learning trajectory to match a hyper-charged economy.

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