The last 20 years have seen an explosion of technology into all fields, with education being no exception. Of course, using tools such as computers and calculators in the classroom can be very beneficial to students’ comprehension, but in today’s workplace it is even more critical that students learn how to use technology to solve problems and find information than simply to facilitate learning. The ability to collect and process information and organize it in easy-to-understand formats is one of the greatest uses for technology, and students who master these skills are setting themselves up for a lifetime of success. This is true no matter what subject the student is learning, be it psychology, history, or, of course, math.
Of course, technology is also invaluable for presenting information in ways that students find exciting and relatable. Online tutorials and educational games present new information in an interactive format students are familiar with and allow them to progress at their own pace while always having the opportunity to come back and review concepts. Online journals and encyclopedias allow students to explore vast stores of information with unparalleled ease. Educational videos on practically every topic are easily available for students (and teachers) who prefer information in a visual format. Finally, calculators and computer algebra packages allow students to explore math concepts in ways hugely beneficial for learning.
How Do I Integrate Technology into My Lessons?
An important thing to remember is that while many resources can be presented in a classroom setting, as a teacher you only have so much time with your students each class, and your instruction is something no online video can provide. One particular caveat to be aware of is that of showing movies in the classroom. While it’s a great idea to integrate short video clips into your lessons, as this is entertaining and informative for students, spending an entire class period showing a movie or even a good documentary is seldom worth doing. Of course, many students enjoy watching movies as opposed to typical lesson plans, but the amount of classroom time spent to watch a single program could probably better be spent in discussion, instruction, or an interactive project. One great alternative is to have students watch movies outside of class as part of a project. This could involve making the same movie available to all students, or by allowing students to choose programs on a specific topic which will allow them more freedom to report on something that fits their particular interests. Many students would rather watch a 90-minute movie outside of class than work on a rote homework assignment which would require only half as long to complete.
Another great way to integrate technology into teaching is to refer students to online resources and/or instruct them to use these in completing their homework. There are many online games, quizzes, articles, and videos which can teach new facts and concepts to students while keeping their attention better than a long textbook reading assignment. Naturally students are more likely to learn when they’re engaged in their work, so this can lead to a much more productive use of time. Teachers can also find many downloadable worksheets, articles, and activities online to provide for their students which offer new opportunities for learning both inside and outside of class.
Using Technology with Math Instruction
Mathematics is traditionally one of the most difficult subjects for students to learn due to its abstract nature. As such, any advantage students can find to facilitate their learning is essential, and the good news is that there are many resources available for both students and educators. When I first started my website, Calcblog.com, I wanted to create a collection of articles where students could go for homework help and to learn new skills, but I didn’t fully expect the huge response I received from teachers using my resources in their classrooms as well. One of the topics we focus on is using the graphing calculator as a tool, a topic which has long been a matter of heated debate among educators. Many argue that calculators keep students from learning by “giving them all the answers,” but in fact research supports the opposite conclusion. In fact, academic research indicates that calculator use is strongly correlated with students’ learning of new mathematical concepts and other benefits.* Calculators help students to learn how numbers work by facilitating pattern recognition and allow students to learn new concepts without worrying about making computational errors. In fact, this discouragement is one of the most prevalent reasons why students have trouble learning algebra and more advanced math concepts; if, once you’re finally starting to understand a concept, you give up because you just can’t seem to get the right answer, almost all is lost. On the other hand, if students are able to solve algebra problems and avoid computational mistakes by using their calculators, they are more likely to feel confident in math skills and more interested in learning further concepts.
My physics teacher from my sophomore year of college would always tell me of times when he would write a beautiful result on the board and his students would respond with blank stares. The problem, of course, is that so many students don’t learn to appreciate the beauty of knowledge and what they are learning in their classes. This is one final topic I feel is worth noting: if you can instill a love of learning into your students, they will continue learning for their entire lives. The truth is that I’ve never heard of someone that changed the world and said “I don’t really think learning is interesting.” Technology is a way in which teachers can reach their students in this way. If you’re a science teacher, why not show your students pictures of the universe or videos of new technologies like ferrofluids? If you’re a history teacher, show your students famous paintings from the era you’re studying. Or if you’re a computer science teacher, show your students a web diagram of internet connections and ask them what they think, then compare it to a picture of a neural network. There are so many possibilities for using technology to make learning easier, more exciting, and more captivating. Give it a try, and I’m sure you’ll be surprised by the results!
Eric Kittlaus is the founder of Calcblog.com, which provides math and graphing calculator tutorials for students and educators. His book, Ace the SAT Using Your TI Calculator, is now available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Eric can be contacted via his website at http://www.calcblog.com.