Pros & Cons
With everything in life, there should be balance and moderation. Long gone are the days of projectors and vis-a-vis pens. Students in this day and age relate to technology. It does play an important part in getting students excited about learning.
Yet, it has to have its place. It can’t be the central means of learning. I believe that we cannot just follow the one to one and iPad device trend we’ve been seeing in math.
Overall, Google classrooms & digital practices are not better for math students. In fact, they can actually be seen as drawbacks in a math-specific classroom. Don’t get me wrong, technology is great, especially when it comes to applets that show mathematical concepts.
I love to use hands-on software like GeoGebra, where students can drag vertices, see relationships, and make discoveries. Technology can be great for introducing or exploring big-picture concepts. Online models can also be helpful. They are far more convenient than distributing fraction pieces or algebra tiles, and can sometimes show ideas more clearly than the tangible models can.
These apps can be extremely helpful for students but we need to be careful that we don't let them take over the classroom. They are not always beneficial, and can even be a hinderance in situations when we need students to get pencil-and paper notes, practice algebra work line by line, or work with diagrams.
Blending the Two
The best model is to “blend” learning - combine tech with hands on or paper-based teaching.
Students will get the most out of a lesson if tech is used only when it enhances the lesson, not dominates it. Practicing concepts by hand on paper is irreplaceable in the math classroom. It’s not only a more effective means of showing the work, it is also more effective for student retention. The connections the brain makes when the hands are writing is stronger than it is with technology.
Resisting the "Paperless" Trend
This can be seen in a study published in Psychological Science by Pam Mueller & Daniel Oppenheimer of Princeton University and UCLA. Several students wrote out their notes either by hand or on a laptop. The study found that the students that wrote their notes by hand actually learned more. Their memory was tested for factual detail, conceptual comprehension, and synthesizing capabilities.
While the students who used laptops ended up with more words from the lecture in their notes, their understanding of the concepts were weaker than the students that hand wrote their notes (source).
And this study is actually a great illustration of Robert A. Bjork’s 20 year old concept, “desirable difficulty.” It simply states that sometimes, doing things the easy way actually hinders our ability to learn. Obstacles that frustrate us help us learn. While technology can make note taking and learning seem easier and more fun, it takes away the challenge and creativity.
One of the main challenges in handwriting notes is discerning what information to take down. A method like visual note taking is another way to help students retain information. Students can feel empowered when taking down notes by hand, in charge of the information they are learning as well as how it is presented on their notes, taking them to another level of engagement in the lesson.
Tech Devices Have Their Place...
It would be a disservice to our students to eliminate all technology from the classroom. After all, this is the 21st century. Having tech savvy skills is a necessity for success in the workforce. That’s why we do need to incorporate iPads, laptops, and apps. It is important that students understand the place technology has in the world.
And it is truly that simple, the technology in the classroom has its place. We cannot simply turn all classrooms into a high tech, digital world. Math assignments and notes have to continue to take place on paper. The convenience of Google Drive, typing and tablets are not meant to replace the traditional classroom, only enhance it.
...But Don't Ignore the Concerns
Remember that these “conveniences” are not always a benefit. They can actually become pretty inconvenient challenges. It takes forever for teens to type into a computerized equation editor. To try to work with exponents, fractions, and radicals on a computer screen wastes so much valuable class time or homework time. It takes away from the flow of the learning experience.
I also feel really sorry for students who are not even given textbooks anymore. Some schools expect them to only access their text online. This is a big challenge in math, where we use problems from the book. Kids are now restricted to places with internet access and can no longer do homework on the bus or while waiting for sports games.
It's important to keep the focus on tech as an enhancement to a lesson, and not lose the benefits of hands-on activities and paper / pencil learning in math class.
What are your feelings on technology in the classroom? Do you feel your students’ learning experience is being hindered or heightened by the increasing role the digital age plays in education? Share how you feel in the comments below, or give any tips you have to share if you have found that balance that blends digital and paper just right!
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This in itself is enough to convince me to stick with the visual note-taking, but as I have been digging deeper into more and more research to explain the incredible boost in student learning after using the doodle note strategy, I've come across more and more reasons that are probably behind this success for the kids.
The psychological research I have been exploring lately is called "Dual Coding Theory." It originated with Paivio in the 70s, and explains how visual and linguistic information is processed in two different areas of the brain.
In essence, as new input enters the brain, it's stored in short term memory in two distinct categories. Graphic information, images, and other sensory input are processed in the VISUAL center while auditory input, words, and text are processed in the LINGUISTIC center of the brain.
This is a great way for our brain to take in both types of information, and the system works very well. However, in order to convert the new information into true learning, we need it to be saved and stored in long term memory.
To do this, we need referential connections between the two zones. We have to CONNECT the information in the visual area with the information in the linguistic area.
When we are able to blend the text/auditory input together with the images, we boost the potential for retaining the information!
This means that not only are the individual words and ideas committed to long term memory more effectively, but the associations between them are retained as well. Our students can understand the big ideas and concepts AND remember the vocabulary and details more consistently.
It's another huge reason that the student brain responds so well to a visual note-taking strategy!
A related theory, the "Picture Superiority Effect" is supported by studies that show that blending images with text offers a stronger learning experience than using text alone. It turns out that this boosts both the memory of the individual terms and ideas as well as the associations and connections between the concepts.
This is why we use certain visual brain triggers in addition to using text. For example, a stop sign has to instantly register an idea in our brains: STOP. So, in combination with the word (text input), we also always see the same shape (graphic input) as well as the color red (additional visual input). These blend together to send the right signal to our brains more effectively.
A good visual note-taking strategy incorporates what I like to call "visual memory triggers." These can be images that contain or represent an analogy that helps the student understand. They can also be graphics that blend text and pictures to stick in the students' brains.
These are the types of input that really last in a student's long-term memory.
For example, students remember the term "surface area" being written in the handle and bristles of a paintbrush and remember that it represents covering the outside of a sharpe (like painting). Check out more samples of visual triggers that can be incorporated into doodle notes here. To learn more about doodle notes, the research behind them, and how to try this strategy to boost your own students' focus and retention, check out these links:
More about the doodle note strategy:
My video explaining Dual Coding Theory:
Dual Coding Theory vs. "Learning Styles":
(Guess which is valid and which may be a myth!)
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Then, check out these related posts:
Ideally, teaching students how to work towards a goal should happen in three phases:
I guide the planning phase by beginning with self-reflection. Students think through their grades, effort/work ethic, and behavior for the past grading period or semester.
Then, they compile a list of their strongest (proud of) areas and a list of areas they they identify as needing improvement.
They begin brainstorming topics for a goal and try to narrow it down.
I created a doodle-style sheet where students can jot their thoughts as they work through this process. Download the self-evaluation and goal-setting sheet here.
When they are ready to choose a goal to formally write up, it can be helpful to review the "SMART" goal criteria. Goals should be:
- Realistic / Relevant
For some great examples of focusing in on these, check out these two samples with more detail:
Printables for Additional Guidance & Student Planning in More Detail:
Examples of How to Take a Sample Goal and Make it "SMART"er:
For this process to really work, once students write and sign off on their final goal, you'll need to come back to it.
Set up a process that allows them to check in and reflect periodically on how well they are doing. Here are a few ideas:
- Assign accoutability partners. Have them set their own schedule for check-ins based on the timelines they each set for their own goals. They will create a structure and follow up with one another to see how it's going each day/week.
- Do classroom check-ins. Have students share in small groups of 5 students what their goals are and how they know their progress. Take five minutes at the end of each class period to meet up and groups and review each person's day of working towards their goal (1 minute per person per day).
- Set up a structure for students to reward themselves. They can set their own rewards, and they can even happen at home, but as each student meets a goal that they set, you can celebrate it in the classroom. This can be as simple as having an icon on a bulletin board for each student and having them take steps up a mountain or over to the other side of a divided board as they progress toward a goal. Make the accomplishments visible.
- If you have time, set up a quick 2-minute meeting with each student about two weeks after they set their goals. Review the original goal, discuss progress, and give some reminders about how they can continue to be successful or start over to turn things around. This can be as they hand in tests during a quiet testing day or during a homeroom period.
- For any students who acheive their goal early, help them set another. It may have been too easy. Either way, there is always room for more improvement. Suggest that they start another round of the goal-setting process, but also have them keep tabs on the old goal to be sure that they do not backtrack after making such quick progress.
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