Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Math and technology need not be opponents

I'll start off by saying these are my initial thoughts as I'm trying to sort through some encounters I've had recently. To sum it up before I get into it: technology seems to be chosen for us (teachers) by those that aren't in the classroom and avoided by (many) teachers themselves. The people that should be looking for the tools necessary for their own classrooms become so focused on understanding the course material they lose sight of how they will get students involved in learning it.
I recently heard Dan Meyer speak about the tension that exists between our finite resources and infinite tools. The point was not to choose random technology tools just for the sake of using them but to choose the ones that will bring perplexity to our lessons for our students. (His definition of perplexity is presenting students with a problem that they want to solve in which the solution is within grasp). I've had other staff development on making sure the work is relevant and meaningful--there are supposed to be two different definitions for those words but they seem so close I could never keep track of which one meant I'm just going with perplexity now.
Personally I have waited a long time to get instructional technology that would meet a specific need I had in my own classroom. Often the wait got to be so long I either found an alternative elsewhere, making it myself or just continue on knowing there was a better way of getting students involved in their learning.

So here exists the problem as I see it:

1. Those that bring the technology to the teachers don't understand the needs of the teachers in their classrooms. A flashy website subscription just shows up or a single-purpose device gets delivered over the summer that's outdated by the fall. Technology acquisition should be driven by what teachers want and need to meet a need already present in their classroom. We need to move away from purchasing tools and then asking how they can be used in a classroom. Technology tools need to be driven by curriculum and not the opposite. The tools need to help us dive deeper into our content area, not to make it cute or the same old thing just wrapped in colorful paper.

2. Curriculum departments need to stay informed. We can no longer accept as educators to be behind 3+ years in implementing and teaching technology use with our students. There are tools that exist that can bring a level of deep thinking and individualized instruction to our students that were not possible even 5 years ago. Leaders need to be aware of these tools, modeling them and asking what effect this can have on our current practices. A great springboard for me with idea sharing has been learning from other talented educators and leaders on Twitter.

3. Move beyond single use devices.   iPads, iPods, Kindle Fire, Nook Tablets, etc all  have one thing in common: multiple use device for classroom applications. The problem is education vendors want us to believe we still need to purchase single use devices (that are obsolete in 3 years which ironically is about how long we have to work to get them in the first place). The ACT and SAT could have been computerized years ago but this would sell fewer graphing calculators. Seriously how many computer labs sit empty in schools on a Saturday morning? Make an electronic graphing calculator  that connects to a computerized test, maybe even let kids choose which brand they want in the test so that we can start getting better calculator apps on their devices (Texas Instruments and Casio I'm talking to you here...). Until this happens our view of technology in the classroom will continue to move too slowly. I do not want to have to connect my calculator to my computer to load a picture on it taken with a camera when I could take a picture with the same device that has the calculator.

Final thought (for now): I don't consider myself to arrived at some conclusion with all of this myself. I don't know how to fix it right now but I do hope that as educators we start to have these conversations. We can't allow ourselves to reach a point where we think we have it figured out and cement ourselves in at that location for the rest of our career.


  1. Amen, brother!
    I am so sorry to hear that the situation is fundamentally unchanged since I left the public school classroom in 2000. In 1998, I asked for a $15 connector so that my Mac could be hooked up to the TV for GSP demonstrations. I had the computer. I had the TV (they were in every classroom for Channel 1-single use device!). I just needed the connector. No can do.

  2. Thanks! I remember those tv box things. Pretty cool that you were wanting to through GSP up there back in 1998!

  3. Well stated! The next step is, as you cautioned, ensuring the class needs are driving acquisition (informed class needs). It's great to have a set of what? Those with the purse strings need to go beyond just buying, there should be a unified theme/goal/outcome. This is what drives acquisition, training, and development. As long as web tools and apps are trotted out as one hit wonders, multiuser devices will remain as static as their single use counterparts.

  4. Great points as well. I think rather than a general roll-out plan it needs to begin with the folks that are already demonstrating the need in their own classrooms. Start with the teachers as the leaders, more of a grass-roots approach, to demonstrate proper tech integration and use of possible new tools.