Math + Technology = Achievement: Is there something missing?

Mathematics and technology

Contributed by Nicol Howard

Loud and clear are the calls for a revision in teaching strategies and intervention methods to better support students’ success in math performance. Although it has been years since the National Educational Technology Standards (now ISTE Standards) were initially released (1999) by the International Society for Technology in Education, the use of technology in mathematics is a widely adopted practice in teaching and learning. Educators may agree on the need for developing more engaging curricula and developing teaching strategies that nurture growth in math proficiency, but vital questions remain about the use of technology-rich instructional activities that support the development of this knowledge. Technology can potentially support achievement by enabling learners to be independent and creative thinkers, as well as effective problem solvers. Technology can be an essential tool in teaching and learning mathematics, because it:

  1. Engages students
  2. Supports their conceptual understanding of real world experiences
  3. Enhances math standards (or learning objectives)

In short, establishing technology-rich learning environments are an approach for effectively supporting instruction and intervention in mathematics classrooms.

Defining Educational Technology

References to educational technology (ed tech), learning technologies, and instructional technology are made throughout academic discourse on teacher implementation methods in classrooms. The intricate nature of ed tech and instructional technology, as well as the complex relationship between teachers and learners, challenge the notion that “technology” can be clearly defined. Regardless, educators often defined educational or instructional technology as devices. Present-day educators define it as the implementation of tools, techniques, or processes that assist the application of senses and cognition to improve teaching practices and improve outcomes in academic learning. Consequently, the focus is not on one specific tool rather the use of technology-rich instructional activities to support teaching and learning.

Although I will provide a handful of tech tools for use in mathematics, it is essential that teachers continue to openly discuss, reflect, explore, and share technology strategies and/or tools used in their own mathematics classes. This is not to suggest that what works in one classroom will work in all classrooms, rather it opens the door for teachers to connect and potentially collaborate on project ideas.

Identifying Tech Tools for Math

There is no guarantee that a technology tool will effectively support achievement for all students in one mathematics classroom. Increasing levels of diversity in students and teachers disrupt the idea that “one-size-fits-all”. Building on this notion, technology infusion in mathematics instruction should happen in a way that supports the achievement of students based upon their individual needs. In the past, technology was primarily used in mathematics to provide drills and practice that supported an increase in the achievement of learners. Such tools still exist in a somewhat more efficient web-based model. Consider the following examples:

  1. Sumdog.com – A game-based program that contains math practice/fluency activities. Accounts for teachers and students are free, as well as most activities and live tracking. Using Sumdog, students can compete with one another live or participate in whole class competitions against other schools around the world. If you are looking for reports and/or assessment features, a premium package is available.
  2. XtraMath.org – A free web-based program designed to support basic math fact fluency with a more intrinsic rewards approach. Accounts for teachers and students, reports, and tracking are all free. There are no bells and whistles with Xtramath; however, students are enamored with the immediate feedback provided at the end of their 10-minute per/day session.

Aside from math practice, tech should also be used in mathematics to engage students in the learning. Without question, Google Apps for Education (GAFE) has opened up a world of possibilities for students and teachers. For example, students in Brandi Miller’s 3rd grade class in Southern California used Google Drawings as a virtual manipulative when learning fractions. Brandi’s approach may have flipped on its head the expectation that students solve problems correctly using teacher-provided diagrams, charts, and graphs and demonstrate effective use of tech tools. Her students’ use of tech possibly positions them as constructors in their learning, instead of manipulators of objects. Dare we call them designers?

Google Drawing

In addition to using GAFE in the form of virtual manipulatives, the apps can also be used to encourage the development of problem-solving skills through synchronous and asynchronous collaboration(s) on math projects. The examples that can be provided here are endless, students can:

  1. share fraction number lines with other students (beyond their own classroom), who then add on more fractions
  2. collaborate on a document as they research new math concepts
  3. co-construct surveys and analyze data using statistical functions in spreadsheet
  4. collaborate to create their own real-world word problems and quizzes

Beyond collaboration tools, there are also widely used and free media-rich technology options for students. The tools I recommend (Gooru Learning, Khan Academy, and LearnZillion) contain a self-paced feature, and they are also ideal for a teacher at the beginning stages of creating personal learning experiences for his/her students.

With pleasure, I can say that there is an endless list of technology tools that can be used for teaching and learning in any given mathematics class. However due to the constant development of technology, attention should be given to identifying the most efficient trending technology tools for use in education. This cannot happen in a vacuum. Math plus technology does not always equal achievement. It is imperative that time and space is given for teachers to reflect on their own mathematical and technological identity and how this informs their teaching. Teachers, researchers, technology vendors/entrepreneurs, and important stakeholders can then collaborate on projects targeted at identifying effective and safe (privacy polished) tech tools for mathematics instruction.

So while we wait for the big meeting(s), let’s keep the conversation going…

How will you (or do you) use technology, in mathematics teaching and learning, to develop independent, creative-thinking, effective problem-solvers?    

Reference:

Educational Technology and Mobile Learning (2015, March). New Tools to Reinforce Students Mathematical Skills. Retrieved from: http://www.educatorstechnology.com/2015/03/new-tools-to-reinforce-students-math-skills.html

 

 

Nicol HowardNicol Howard has had the pleasure of serving as an educator in various capacities over the past years 12 years. She has taught at the high school level (9th – 12th grades and Special Education) in the Compton Unified School District and grades K through 4 in the Corona-Norco Unified District and the Santa Ana Unified School District. She currently teaches 4th grade (STEM) and is an Adjunct Professor at Chapman University. Nicol is also a Learning Innovation Technology Leader in the Santa Ana Unified School District and was nominated as Teacher of the Year, 2015. In higher education, Nicol has facilitated multiple courses in teacher education related to technology, learning theories, and research methods. Her personal research interests are in the effective use of technology in K12 education and equity issues in STEM Education. She is a co-author of Standing in the Gap.

 

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