Friday, January 31, 2014

2014: How Much Will the Classroom Change?

Personalized Learning.  Chromebooks or iPads?  BYOD.  Standards-based grading.  These are all buzzwords in the world of education that inspire much debate, including in the classrooms where future teachers are being educated.  As students preparing to become teachers, we are not always aware of topics up for debate in the education field since the schools where we observe do not necessarily implement any of these controversial topics.  Many of these topics come back to the use of technology in the classroom; how much technology should we be using during or for our instruction and how much technology should we allow our students to bring with them to school?
Schools purchase Chromebooks, iPads, laptops, tablets for their students to use to aid the learning process.  Some schools debate whether to tell students to ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD).  Some might ask, ‘If a device can be used to help further education, why should we stop students from bringing it to school?’  This raises questions of fairness and providing students with equal opportunity to access technology for their education.  As we increase our use of technology for homework assignments, what happens to the students who do not have internet access at home?  In the case of BYOD, what happens to the students who cannot afford a device of their own?  Schools who employ the policy of BYOD must address these questions.  Of course, how much teachers actually use these devices varies from place to place.  Some teachers might encourage their students to use them every day while others might only make use of them for special projects.  The goal of using technology is to supplement instruction so that students might learn content more in-depth.
Learning content more in-depth provides greater opportunity for a deeper understanding of a topic.  Standards-based grading seeks to allow students to do this.  In standards-based grading, instead of assigning students letter grades of A, B, C, D, or F for their assignments, teachers label assignments by content and then grade students’ mastery of content with labels such as ‘Advanced’, ‘Proficient’, or ‘Needs Improvement’.  Of course, just labeling students’ work as such will not necessarily help them improve.  Explaining to students the rating for their work is necessary.  Students need to master their content before they can move on to the next topic, in general helping them to better understand what they are doing.  Some students will move faster than others, which is why personalized learning becomes important.
Looking on the internet, many websites have positive things to say about personalized learning, which is tailoring curriculum and instruction to help students propel themselves through course material.  Students tend to be more motivated when they get to have a say in what they learn.  Does this mean that every student gets to choose topics that he or she deems worthy of study?  No.  This would cause chaos in the math classroom, as students would likely skip many topics.  Rather, personalized learning in the math classroom might mean that students get to choose how quickly they master course content and what type of instruction they would prefer to learn portions of the content.  None of the websites gave practical insight for implementation of a personalized learning classroom, but undoubtedly, the teacher would need to remain flexible and continue to learn as the students learn since the learning would be more exploratory.
As 2014 progresses, it will be interesting to see which of these ‘next best things’ in education will grab hold for the coming years.  One thing is for sure, teachers will need to remain flexible and continue seeking answers for the best ways to use technology in their instruction while helping their students master content.  Whether teachers use the technology to teach the content in innovative ways or whether they will use technology to teach the same content in essentially the same ways they have always taught it remains to be seen.
by Emily McMahon

Friday, January 24, 2014

Technology in the Classroom: Instruction Versus Supplement

Seeing as a new semester is upon us, lets get back to the basics and talk tech for the math classroom. Let's talk specifically about the use of some technology as a instruction versus a supplement. It is quite obvious that there is a wide array of technology available for educators in today's classroom. Schools are increasingly moving to one-to-one initiatives, implementing devices such as smartboards and document cameras in their classrooms, and expecting students and teachers alike to become more "tech-literate." These new pieces of technology can be categorized into two primary uses: instruction versus supplementation. Depending on the category which the hardware or software falls under,determines how the piece should be used. Instruction technology can be used by the teacher to teach students new ideas and spark connections, whereas supplementation serves the purpose to check for mastery by students and further understanding. Let's take a look at the two and when the line becomes blurred.

There are several great examples of instructional technology for the math classroom. For the teacher offering a flipped classroom screen capture software and video editors allow teachers to create lessons for their students to study outside of class. Videos and video sites such as YouTube, can offer instructors a way to reach students without traditional lecture. Several companies that develop hardware for technology pieces also develop lessons for their tech (SMART is an example of one of these companies). Software also exists (such as Geometer's Sketchpad and Geogebra) that allow instructors to manipulate objects such as graphs and shapes in their lessons.

Supplemental technology enhances the classroom experience. Most math games that students play on computers or tablets fall underneath this category. One of the largest types of software in this category is homework help/submission software. This may include such programs as WebAssign and iXL. These programs allow students to submit answers electronically and receive almost immediate feedback. Supplemental technology is fantastic in the math classroom, the danger comes when supplemental technology is used as instructional tech. We'll discuss this pressing issue in a later blog.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Welcome back to the Technology for Math Educators blog!

This blog only runs during the semesters when the course is offered so that is why you haven't heard from us since April 2013.

We are beginning the Spring 2014 semester and this semester's class has 11 students--this means that they will only need to blog once this semester.  I am looking for a couple of people who are willing to read this blog each week and then serve as a guest blogger in April.  If you are interested in that opportunity, let me know,

One of the things that makes this course interesting is that technology is constantly changing--this also means that the class is more difficult to teach because you have to consistently research the latest technologies.  I plan to put some of the research work on the students this semester so that they learn how to research technology as that is an important skill needed as a teacher.

Some other new things for this semester include:
  • focusing the course around the 6-12 Common Core Probability and Statistics standards; and
  • group presentations.
The reason behind the first change is that our graduates feel that they lack preparation in this particular area of the Common Core.  The second change is due to the fact that I have 11 students this semester instead of 6.

One thing that we will also likely discuss this semester is the attack on the Common Core standards.  I am fairly certain that the South Dakota legislature will have a bill this session that gets rid of the CCSS in SD.  It will be interesting to see how that plays out--my hope is that we continue with these standards as we have come too far to turn back now!

Sharon Vestal