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!
To Read Next:
1/28/2017 07:49:36 am
1/28/2021 08:12:50 am
Yes, a very interesting blog (which validates my own personal experience as a homeschool "teacher").
2/1/2017 09:39:33 pm
My geometry classroom is 1 to 1 with Chromebooks. Students have a digital copy of their textbook which can be viewed offline. Some homework assignments are drill in nature and are done on-line, some assignments are using the eText which students will work in their paper notebooks and upload a photo of when they return the next day to school. Many assignments are collaborative in nature and technology truly facilitates this. Technology has allowed more real-world applications and investigations in geometry that were not possible before. It is not a question of a Digital Classroom vs Math by Hand but one of Math by Hand finding it's place in the Digital Classroom. People communicate digitally why would we not teach them to communicate about math digitally?
2/2/2017 04:31:10 pm
12/14/2022 01:01:38 am
I and many others I know still communicate not digitally by text, but by voice on phone. I have made clear to all my kids for nearly 20 years in ALL your relationships you can communicate digitally by the text etc. but if you want to connect more deeply it is best not to rely on non-verbal communication. The text is not that entirely different from the telegraph in nature. There is nothing wrong with using technology to enhance learning, but it is likely that the majority or people will not learn better and faster by writing items down. You can look at the very top students, as they have more of a photographic memory in nature, which would lend to those few students having a more easy transition with technology. But looking at only the transition of the very top students o technology would create a large learning deficit with the masses. To move the needle best in learning you must always look at the center. The middle / average student. There you will have greatest effect. I wish you well.
2/7/2017 09:18:01 am
I agree with you! I would like to add the benefits from a teaching grading stand point. When grading papers I leave notes on problems that have minor mistakes that I may forget to address when we are back in class. When a student really nails a hard problem I like to leave them a smiley face, it makes them proud.
2/7/2017 04:07:51 pm
Awesome point, Nan!
3/8/2017 09:37:46 pm
I'm not an educator, so am interested to hear from others who have more classroom exposure -- I absolutely agree that pencil and paper interactions with math are much faster and easier, but also recognize that more educational content is moving online (especially for things like standardized tests).
3/11/2017 06:15:40 pm
7/31/2017 12:07:23 am
One of the keys is the ability to handwrite on the computer. I have a student who uses a tablet with a stylus to do his homework. No paper but it's still handwritten.
6/26/2017 11:24:33 am
Came across your article recently - love the way you explained this! I'm one of the founders of the Formative Loop math program where students practice skills on paper, but then the teachers grade on the computer to make it individualized. We're always surprised that this pencil/paper approach has such a big impact on students' learning compared to fully digital programs (which is frankly what we initially designed!). Just wanted to say thanks for the great post!
7/8/2017 10:53:53 am
7/10/2017 10:37:47 pm
We'd love to have you check it out! You can sign up for a free trial at http://formativeloop.com - love to get your feedback!
11/16/2020 10:09:22 pm
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12/3/2020 02:04:42 am
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5/28/2021 05:27:14 pm
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6/20/2021 09:24:53 pm
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4/27/2022 05:46:57 am
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5/21/2022 01:20:41 am
YAY! Something to back me up! Our entire 8th grade has practically gone all-digital. They only accept assignments and notes digitally. I hate it! I'm seen as the "backwards" teacher who is stuck in the past. I am constantly having to prove myself and why I won't accept digital assignments, and why we take guided notes, etc. I mention these things above, the brain connections, distractions, etc. but also, digital assignments are harder to grade & organize. I can't always just pull out a stack of items to grade because I can't carry my laptop around everywhere. However, putting a stack in my purse so I can work on it while waiting at the dentist's office, etc works! Also kids don't listen to you when you tell them how they should turn in their digital work, and I wind up getting it in so many forms, it's hard to keep track of who has turned in what. But one of the biggest inconveniences for ME is that digitally, I can't give good feedback to students on their work. I've never been a "just mark it with an X" grader. I give them hints as to what they have done correctly, where they started going wrong, and help direct them to their notes and where they will find similar examples to go back and rework the problem. That s SO CRUCIAL for students, and this "all digital" is not all it's cracked up to be.
5/23/2022 12:59:41 pm
So frustrating! Please stick to your passion for non-digital work, especially in math class! You are absolutely right. Sorry that you are dealing with that. Going fully on-screen is definitely not what's best for students. Feel free to share the facts with everyone. The kids will probably back you up as well! They are getting frustrated with the paperless trend too. I hope things improve. Hang in there and keep advocating for what they need :)
6/20/2022 09:27:00 am
I performed a small study in my Pre-Algebra classes a few years ago to test whether forcing students to perform pencil-and-paper supporting work while doing on-line homework helped improve learning. Due to small sample size, I couldn't get a large effect size, but still the results were pretty convincing. The published article is here: https://reboot-foundation.org/en/pencil-and-paper-in-math/ This summer I am hoping to recruit middle school teachers to run a similar experiment with a larger group. My hope is to show that while technology does have a role to play in modern math education (particularly, I think, in homework), students need to be encouraged to still perform complex mathematical tasks with pencil and paper.
6/22/2022 09:25:24 am
Bill, this is awesome! Thank you so much for sharing. That is so cool that you were able to do a randomized controlled trial on this.
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