Many schools across the world have been given the gift of technology. While tech in classrooms is nothing new (I mean, we had computers back in MY day), the scale and magnitude of its deployment has transformed the way many of us teach.
Quite a few classrooms have adopted a 1-to-1 model where every student has a device – whether it’s loaned from the district or students bring their own. And with this also came the growing pains of figuring out what to do with the tech and determining how it will improve student outcomes.
I would wager to guess that a lot of early adopters went through similar struggles when they first worked with a 1:1 model. There were tech, troubleshooting, Wifi, bandwidth, classroom management, and device operability issues – just to name a few.
Then there was the issue of actually teaching with the devices in a meaningful way.
I’ve previously written about my take on balancing tech in my teaching, but I really wanted a different perspective. So I reached out to a fellow educator, Roger W. Davis, who not only writes thoughtful blog posts and tweets but who teaches something completely different from me: MATH.
I asked Roger to share his experiences as a mathematics technology curriculum specialist to see if edtech struggles were similar across various subjects. While the devices and tools differ, the lessons learned were definitely the same.
When I first started teaching, my belief was that technology was the answer to everything. For me at the time, technology was all you needed to understand mathematics. I would be considered in the mathematics world at that time a liberal.
My first year, I decided to teach the concept of graphing quadratics by using only the calculator to graph, but not showing how the points are calculated using the function.
It went fairly well, so I decided that for the rest of semester, I would teach mathematics using the graphical calculator as my main tool of teaching without worrying about the background information on how the concept worked.
By the end of the semester, my students knew how to work the calculator and good at pushing a sequence of buttons quite well to achieve certain results.
One problem: my students really did not understand the mathematics they were learning.
In today’s society, we are expected to use technology in our classroom. In spite of this, we have to ask: are we using technology for the right reasons? Is technology necessary to enhance our understanding of mathematics?
Using technology in the classroom can enhance and create a greater understanding of the concepts of mathematics if used in an effective way.
The following questions are going to be discussed:
- Why should you use technology in the teaching and learning of mathematics?
- What role should technology play in the classroom?
- How do you use it in a balanced way?
- What are some traps that can occur?
The “Why” of technology
The first questions you should ask when deciding to use technology are:
- Why are you using it?
- What are the benefits when you use technology?
Technology can make learning more hands-on for students. Technology makes the learning flexible, adaptable and available 24/7.
Students can control the pace and be creative with the products they create. Tech can incorporate various styles of learning. It can allow students can be collaborative with each other, give them instant feedback, and help them stay focused and engaged with the content longer.
What role should technology play in the classroom?
Technology should be a background support to the teaching and learning, and therefore should NOT be the centerpiece of the lesson. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) states:
It is essential that teachers and students have regular access to technologies that support and advance mathematical sense making, reasoning, problem solving, and communication.
Effective teachers optimize the potential of technology to develop students’ understanding, stimulate their interest, and increase their proficiency in mathematics. When teachers use technology strategically, they can provide greater access to mathematics for all students.”
In today’s society, technology is everywhere. Students need to use their understanding of the content and the use of technology hand-in-hand to compete with today’s market. As a teacher, this means that you need to integrate technology into your lesson planning.
Easy ways to incorporate this into your teaching
You can do this in your lesson at any point.
- You can use Kahoot to open with a game format. Go Formative or Quizlet to ask several quick review questions. Use Desmos or the TI-84 calculator to review different equations or use a video to introduce or review a concept.
- During a lesson, you can use many different types of technologies to enhance it. Use can use an Instructional Learning System like Moodle, Plato, and Blackboard to organize and store your electronic notes, handouts, and videos.
- Another great way to organize and create engaging and interactive notes using mobile devices and I-pads are by using a program called Nearpod. If you have a smartboard available for you to use, you can integrate a program called SmartBoard Notebook to organize and enhance your lessons using videos, graphics, and interactive activities.
- One of the best features of Smartboard Notebook is that you can incorporate gamification where you can create a Monster Quiz, Shout it out activity or a racing quiz called Speed it up to engage students.
- In practice sessions and closures, you can Goformative, Kahott, Plicker, Khan Academy, or Nearpod to incorporate technology to review content and close a lesson.
The technology opportunities are many depending on what hardware and software you have available to you in the classroom. But keep in mind that technology is simply a tool to enhance the understanding of the content.
Your purpose as a teacher is to teach the content using diverse types of delivery. Technology is just one of those types of delivery.
How do you use it in a balanced way?
What I learned from that first-year mistake is that a healthy balance has to exist between the technology being used and the content you are exploring. After that experience, I became a moderate in the world of mathematics.
My philosophy in teaching has become rooted in a simple equation: To be successful in mathematics we need to practice mind over technology.
As a mathematician, we need to:
- Explore a concept using our mind
- Learn how the concept works by hand
- Do the manual calculations and
- Understand how the numbers come about.
After that, we can use the technology to confirm our understanding and speed up the process of getting results. This way, technology can be used to explore and enhance our understanding of mathematics.
The research states that if you create a balanced program using technology, curriculum, and the art of teaching, then learning of the content will increase.
“In a balanced mathematics program, the strategic use of technology strengthens mathematics teaching and learning” (Dick & Hollebrands, 2011).
“This work with practitioners should include the development of mathematics lessons that take advantage of technology-rich environments and the integration of digital tools in daily instruction, instilling an appreciation for the power of technology and its potential impact on students’ understanding and use of mathematics” (Nelson, Christopher, & Mims, 2009; Pierce & Stacey, 2010).
Here’s another way to look at it:
The balance of technology and content is like walking a balance beam holding a weight in each hand: Each side has to create opposing forces to achieve the balance to walk the line of learning that you are creating as a teacher.
When the technology confuses more than it helps
Another lesson I have learned through the years is not to overpower students with the use of technology. Students today are saturated with it, and it’s not new to them.
But there is nothing wrong with exploring concepts without the use of technology.
Students need to discuss why, where, and how mathematical concepts come about. When you overpower students with technology, the content gets lost and the focus becomes the technology.
I learned this lesson in my statistics class at the high school level when I decided to introduce them to Minitab, a statistical software to analyze data. First, I would teach the theory side of technology in one class. In the next class teach how to apply the theory using Minitab.
What I didn’t realize is that the Minitab was too sophisticated and powerful for the age group. So when my students were learning Minitab, they would lose the understanding of the concept to understand the technology.
The next year, I dropped teaching Minitab and replaced it with teaching statistics using the TI calculator. It was a better fit of technology for the age group.
What are some other traps that can occur?
A common pitfall with technology is that they could use it solely to focus on recall and repetition and not increase their understanding of the concept. It can also isolate learners, both from each other and sometimes even from their teacher. Finally, technology can make it harder to see (or hear) how students understand mathematical ideas.
Five questions that I use to avoid these and other traps are:
- Does using this technology help my students learn mathematics that they can use without the use of this technology?
- How will someone who does not yet know the mathematics embedded within this technological tool see the mathematics?
- Does this technology focus solely on the acquisition of a limited set of mathematical knowledge, or is it possible for students to use deliberate practice to identify patterns across different problems and acquire new mathematical ideas?
- Does this technology make it harder for my students to interact with each other and with me?
- How will I learn how my students understand the mathematical ideas that are the focus of this lesson?
Using technology as a vehicle can increase the understanding of mathematics. It can be a tool for higher levels of thinking, creativity, collaboration, and a pathway to success if used effectively.
I personally started out using tech for the sake of using it and went so far as to try to go completely paperless, thinking it would make me innovative and a better teacher.
As Roger outlined, you have to first consider what you want your students to learn and then use the tech as a tool to bring that to fruition. Tech for the sake of tech is as useful as having students learn completely from worksheets and textbooks.
And similar to Roger, I too am more of a technology moderate. I’m very purposeful and am averse to shiny object syndrome when it comes to technology. Sure, I’ll test it out, but only if I see how it will enhance and extend what I’m already doing, and I definitely wouldn’t recommend it to my colleagues if I didn’t see it how it would improve student outcomes.
Some people have asked me if I’ve tried this app or that program, and sometimes balk when I haven’t. They’ll be shocked since I’m considered to be super techy by those I work with.
But I have to definitely echo the overall theme of Roger’s post: the tech is a tool and a way for your students to access information and learn, but it won’t replace quality instruction and content!
If you’d like to read more of Roger’s work, click on the image below. You can also find his awesome Tweets at @rwdavis_edu.