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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