Below are several excerpts from an interview that I had with a colleague, “M.”. Our conversation concerns the benefits and drawbacks of technology inside of a Middle School mathematics classroom. Below, M’s words are italicized while my own are in regular font. M.’s name has been written as a changed initial for privacy reasons.
M. has been a teacher for 12 years and previously worked as an engineer in a municipal role, designing builds for bridges and roads. He has a passion for teaching students applied mathematics, and has taught in Kuwait and South Korea during his teaching career. Presently, he is a Middle School Mathematics teacher, as well as an instructional coach for teachers K-12 in our school.
Real World Applicability of Mathematics
“For math and using tech, the simplest tech is the best and im trying to get my students to be ready for the real world; because my background is in engineering. To your question specifically... most applicable technology is excel. Just getting them to use the program...getting the students to be comfortable to be using excel in a practical application.
Working in an engineering firm, the type of program that we use...is basically excel or a spreadsheet on steroids...so i try to get student comfortable with area and volume...and make the worksheet look like a form... and get them to use excel in real life because that's the one that they;ll use the most often as engineers.”
This was surprising to me, that M. believed the best technology that he has used in his classroom was simply using an excel program. However, the above transcript points out a few important things.
Many teachers often have not had real world experience in their field before they go in and teach the content. M., having been a city engineer before, has knowledge of what content he can include in his classes that will have the most carry-over to the real world. This means that he can look past much of the glamour of new technologies and design lessons that would transfer well to the real world of engineering for his students.
I realize that it is not possible for all teachers to be able to have had real world experience in their field, and in this case, having a course on real world applicability of technology in various careers, watching recorded interviews, or speaking with employees from a variety of careers would help teachers assess what technologies would be more applicable for use in the classroom.
With technology, there is a growing notion that “newer is better” as the technology is the newest, most flashy piece of information on the market and this gets kids engaged, and teachers, as it looks cool. However, teachers need to take a step back and think pedagogically why we include the technology that we do in a classroom from the basis of an entire curricula. Excel, working off real world experience, seems to be an incredibly robust tool to use in a math classroom as it is a piece of software that students, should they decide to become engineers, will use every day in their lives. Not only do teachers need to stay up to date with technology, they must also wrestle with what technology is most applicable as well as fits in with the rest of their curriculum as well.
The Four Uses of Technology in Classrooms
One of the more interesting offshoots of our conversation was M’s notions of various uses of technology in the Classroom, and how he categorized the use of technology in his Math classroom.
1.Student interacting with technology
“This is the Direct Application use of technology.”
The most obvious category is students interacting with digital technology in the classroom, using applications to solve problems, and working with digital technology throughout various projects.
2. Formal & Informal assessments
“Here you can use [technology] as an exit ticket, informal assessment, formative assessment; You know, let’s check in and see [how you are doing]... let’s practice what we just talked about it.”
Using technology as a “quick and dirty” exit slip to check in on understanding of a concept for the lesson, was a low pressure way for students to engage and get involved in the content. Rather than using it as a formal assessment, it allows a quick check in with students to see if they understood the lesson content. As most digital forms can mark automatically, it can serve as a quick and efficient formative assessment option for teachers.
Using tech as a formal assessment method has been difficult for M. so as to not let students open another program in order to cheat on the exam. NWEA Lockdown browser may be a good tool for his formal assessments with technology as it locks students into an application and a single website/tab for the completion of a formalized test.
“Not student[s] engaged [with technology], but presentation style. Using an ipad for drawing a picture and projecting that up on the board... there are a lot of different ways to present material [with technology]”
When designing curriculum, a teacher needs to decide what concepts should receive priority, and with this, what concepts can be taught in a more inquiry fashion versus a “typical” lecture style format. Depending on whatever structure chosen for the lesson content, technology can assist with the presentation of information. Obviously, apps like powerpoint, keynote, videos, and even video interviews come to mind when thinking about various presentation styles. However, technology can also assist with showing off one’s learning on an individualized basis, such as 3D printed models, laser cut objects, or even an interactive digital textbook.
4.Backend Assessment & Grading
“[This is] the backend students don't see. Putting together ways that we can directly input in grades and calculate grades using spreadsheets.”
The last use of technology in classrooms was on the backend where teachers can more efficiently calculate grades (or standards tracking if grades are not used). Spreadsheet programs allow for instant calculation, as well as visual representations of data that would take far longer to complete by hand. This gives a teacher more time to be able to focus on other tasks at hand in their teaching profession, than needing to spend time calculating marks.