Technology in Math Education: the iPad a Game-Changer?
We create math in our minds. Yet much of the incentive for dreaming up mathematical results has been inspired by the world around us. Thus there is an underlying connection between the completely abstract and the utterly pragmatic sides of mathematics.
In the classroom teachers are often exhorted to motivate their students by providing “real life” examples as well as problems drawn from the “real world.” Dan Myers explores this motivation issue wonderfully with his blog posts Three Acts Math Tasks and Database of Three Act Math Tasks (more on this later).
Technology in the math classroom: tool or crutch?
As part of the push to keep students motivated and to provide them with cutting-edge math instruction, school systems have been turning increasingly to technological aids. When calculators were introduced in classrooms in the 1990s, many questioned whether they were being used positively for mathematical exploration, or in a negative way as a crutch. Were they keeping students from fully acquiring basic skills? (Anecdotes abound as to high school students pulling out calculators in class to do such things as multiplying a number by 10).
Enter the iPad
The latest push for technology in the classroom centers on the iPad. In some sense iPads are a natural extension of computers and calculators, combining the power of the former with the ease of the latter. We are now at the same place that we’ve been with so many previous technologies, where the creation of the tool has come about far more quickly than the understanding and support for how to use it effectively in teaching.
At its best the iPad, with many great math apps, can be a wonderful way to explore mathematics in a more interactive way than can be done with images in textbooks.
At a less inspiring level, the iPad can be a high-priced book reader. Regrettably, most textbooks aren’t well designed to take advantage of the iPad’s capabilities. Many are simply a repackaging of existing textbooks.
At its worst, the iPad can become a time sink as teachers deal with the logistics of keeping them powered, updated, and unbroken.
Technology requires training
There are stories of school systems that have gotten grants to provide iPads to students, then failed to help teachers figure out what to actually do with the iPads in class. It can be especially frustrating to have access to a tool with such potential, but not be given the training and support to put it to good use.
How would you suggest iPads be used in the classroom?
Here, then, is the question of the day: what do you think should be done with the advent of the iPad in math classrooms? And:
- What iPad apps have you come across that you would want other math teachers to know about?
- How would you suggest teachers and students put them to use in class (or out of class), as a regular tool, or as a special treat or reward?
- What should teacher training programs be doing to acknowledge this upcoming wave of technology use in the classroom?
In the Extension School’s math for teaching program students are asked to explore issues about using technology in math classrooms in the program’s capstone course. Find out more about this class and the Mathematics for Teaching Graduate Program.