Progress Check

Reflecting back over Course one I can break the course into skills learned and questions raised.  With each skill learned, questions were raised which will lead to further investigation in the future.

Never before had I thought about putting my thoughts on a globally accessible site.  In fact, the whole idea terrified me.  This means that everything related to writing a blog has been new.  The learning curve was huge as I struggled to link photos back to their original source, to distinguish between links and tags, to set the appropriate privacy settings in the profile, to add widgets, to personalize the blog header, to connect to youtube, and to determine what links should be included in the body of each post.  Considering where I was when the course began, significant progress has been made.  However, as with all learning, there is still more to learn and questions that need to be answered.  For example, when should you just link to youtube   and when should you import the viewing screen?  Is it based on how much you want readers to watch the video?  A link is easier to overlook than a screen.

Besides blogging, I have learned to use an RSS reader.  Getting my netvibes account set up and adding relevant and valuable feeds has been a positive experience.  However, this again is an ongoing process as I work out which sites I want to maintain and which sites are just taking up time.  I also need to determine if there is a way to refine the way the sites are brought in.  For example, I added my yahoo email account to a netvibes tab, but it brings in the spam and appropriate email into the same list.  If there is no way to improve these settings, then I will remove my email account from netvibes.  Better to have a second log in than to have to wade through the volumes of spam that arrive every day.  My favourites list is another area I need to investigate further.  Is there a way to import this list into netvibes?  So the process continues.

As far as actual technology usage in the classroom, I have only recently found sites that offer practical resources and suggestions for implementing math technology.  While the course has raised my awareness of the need to more actively pursue the goal of a technology enhanced math classroom, I have not yet been able to test out specific techniques.  Perhaps the problem is that I have been looking for the radical and transforming idea when I need to begin with a small step.  Kathy Sandler addressed this in her post “The Dappler Effect.”  Successfully implementing a small technology tool will increase confidence and will build toward the radical.  That will be my goal as the course continues.  The assignment has helped with the thinking process and planning that goes into successful implementation.  Student reactions, as commented on in the post “Hyperventilation and a New Dawn” were also surprising.  In coming weeks I hope to investigate this further.  Do students feel that technology is not helpful in a math class because they have not seen it effectively used? Or do they really feel it distracts them from the basics?  Is there a different reaction for mathematically gifted students and those who find math to be more of a challenge?  If this is the case, how do we meet the needs of both?  This dilemma intrigues me!  Jeff in his comment on “Geeking out With Math … Can this Dream Become a Reality?” posed another question that I hope to pursue.  Would it be possible to set up a “Dr. TAS” modeled on the “Ask Dr. Math” site?  Discussions have begun with the captain of the TAS Varsity Math Team to investigate the possibilities with the Math Team leading the way.

Time will tell how far I make it on the journey to a tech classroom, but the first few steps have been taken.  Let the journey continue!

Hyperventilation and a New Dawn

The final blog post for this course is to be a revelation of what the last eight weeks has accomplished in my classroom.  Somehow this suggests (to me at least) that the second to last blog post should be radical, should reveal great depth of insight and understanding, should have readers (or … let’s be honest … reader … thanks Jeff ) fluctuating between laughter and tears as they (he) are shocked, inspired, challenged, provoked, and amazed by the over-whelming illustrations of exponential growth in effective technology usage in my math classroom.  This should be a mini-magnum opus (defined by the free online dictionary to be “1.  A great work, especially a literary or artistic masterpiece.  2.  The greatest single work of an artist, writer, or composer.”) as it were.

With this internal pressure building in my mind, I have googled, searched, clicked, linked, connected, re-searched, interviewed, discussed, argued, cajoled, collected and collated sites, resources and people in search of that elusive inspiration that will tie stage one of this journey together.  (The very nature of the previous sentence gives you insight into my current state of mind.)  Each internet search began with hope and determination, continued with stubbornness and frustration, and ended in despair and annoyance.   But just because hours of internet searching had once again proven fruitless, I did not lose faith in the insights that face-to-face communication would reveal.  So lunch discussions and informal office interviews were undertaken.  Data was collected.  Unfortunately, these too ended in disappointment.  Colleagues confirmed my fluid views on technology in the math classroom and expounded on their use of the same technology that I currently use.  While there is comfort in knowing that I am not behind the curve as far as technology goes, there was no radical “aha” moment that spurred me on to greater heights.  What do I do now?  Deadlines loom and my blank computer screen seems to be laughing at me.  (Yes … I am well past the first signs of delirium and insanity.)

Then a flicker of light … a brief illumination in the darkness of my despairing cerebral cortex.

What was it that Marc Prensky said in his edutopia article “Shaping Tech for the Classroom”?  “How, then, do we move forward?  First, consult the students.  They are far ahead of their educators in terms of taking advantage of digital technology and using it to their advantage.”  So I seek out the best and the brightest students that I know and ask for their insights.  “Tell me great gurus, how can I effectively integrate technology into my humble classroom?”  Invariably these students expressed similar sentiments to my own.  Technology can be cool for exploration but generally does not have a place in the Math classroom.

Now what am I to do?

I don’t give up.  I keep searching.  I hold my breath, fearful to give in to hope again.

But wait, after a few more searches I actually seem to be yielding some promising results.  Quick!  Bookmark them, import them to my netvibes RSS reader, print them, and save them before they disappear again into oblivion.

The blog Teaching College Math catches my eye.  Maria Andersen seems to be talking about technology in the math classroom in a useful and constructive manner.  I investigate her site further which quickly confirms that her blog should have a prominent place on my netvibes page for easy reference in the future.  I read a couple of her posts.  “Shifting Assessment in a World with WolframAlpha” looks interesting.  Maria talks about an issue I have been struggling with.  When students have access to tools such as WolframAlpha that not only give the answer, but also give all of the steps, how do I ensure that my students are learning?  Her solution is so simple that I am embarrassed by the time I have spent obsessing about this.  Assessments should no longer be about giving the answer to a question.  Rather they should focus on the proof, the justification of the answer.  The mathematical thinking process is encouraged and supported.  The “answer”  to the question is of so little consequence that it is actually given as part of the question.  This mirrors statements that I regularly make in my classroom about the need to show work and demonstrate logical thinking in solution development.  Her last statement sums up this sentiment:  “If you can be replaced by a computer, you’re likely to be replaced by a computer.  Let’s make sure we’re teaching students how to think mathematically, not how to compute mathematically.”

Darkness is slowly giving way as light begins to penetrate the dark recesses of my mind, like a new dawn lurking just over the horizon.  One post, a simple idea, and a challenge to rethink my views on WolframAlpha.  Maybe I can allow students access to this tool in class without fear that it will stop them from thinking.  Isn’t my job about providing students with opportunities and challenges that require them to think?  With this in mind, dare I continue the journey to move towards the light?

I scan through some of Maria’s other posts.  The list looks promising!

Math Technology to Engage, Delight and Excite” sounds interesting.  A twitter comment linked to the post further entices me to return later.

  1. Pete Welter says:  July 26, 2010 at 9:53 pm

Wonderful presentation. Your emphasis on the philosophy of using tech and on creating a framework in which to place the tools you mentioned was extremely valuable. The idea that tools like Wolfram Alpha change what we teach as well as how we teach is not something heard often enough in the math education community.

As a preservice secondary math teacher (although I’m coming into education after 25 years developing software), I continue to be amazed (appalled?) that for many math teachers, technology is a calculator and a projector. Sadly, I can count on one hand with fingers left over the number of teachers and my fellow preservice teachers who have even heard of Wolfram Alpha.

Whew!  Luckily I have heard of Wolfram Alpha!  But still, I will save this presentation for another time.  At least this comment confirms that Maria’s site is going to constantly challenge and stretch me, taking me closer to my goal of a technologically enhanced classroom.

What other gems are contained in Maria’s blog?  The NYT Opinionator Series about Math is mentioned.  I was fortunate enough to hear the author of this series Steven Strogatz, an Applied Mathematician at Cornell University, speak at The Anja S. Greer Conference on Secondary School Mathematics, Science and Technology at Exeter this summer.  He spoke about his new book The Calculus of Friendship that deals with the relationship he has with his high school Calculus teacher.  You can listen to Steven talk about this friendship here.  His Exeter presentation was touching and inspiring, ending with a standing ovation.  Not only did Maria remind me that I wanted to go and look at the Opinionator series, she also brought up another issue that I have spoken about in a previous blog.  Maria said, “Given the discussions we’ve been having about teaching Series and Series approximations lately on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, I wonder if he’d consider writing an article explaining “Why Series?” to students.”  Hmmm!  This sounds like teachers “geeking out”, and gives me another reason for getting that facebook account.

Another positive step … one more rung up the ladder out of the pit of despair for me. 

A quick glance at other posts on Maria’s site guarantees that I will be spending many more hours here: reading, contemplating, analyzing and hopefully, in time, putting into practice some of the tech tools Maria has discussed.

Now, before I lose the google search that resulted in these illustrious finds, let me see what else it has to offer.  “Web 2.0 in Instruction:  Adding Spice to Math Education” by Patricia Deubel sounds especially promising.  As I start to read the article Patricia says, “These are some of the resources I’ve found that might help propel math instruction into the era of Web 2.0.”  This is it.  This is exactly what I have been looking for.  Eagerly, I read on.

Wait.  Oh no!  Where is the paper bag for me to breathe into so that I don’t hyperventilate?  Quick!  Help.

Now don’t get me wrong.  It is not that this article has nothing to offer.  On the contrary, there are so many links to blogs and examples and videos and slideshows and wikis and collaboration sites and social cartoon making sites and …  The world is spinning.  I need to pause till my heart beat slows!  Ah.  Take a deep breath.  Calmly I bookmark the site.  This site will still be here tomorrow.  Later, I will begin to investigate each of these links in turn, drawing inspiration from the global community of mathematics educators until I have “spiced up” my own math classroom.

I am once again inspired to continue the journey, to seek to be a better, more engaging, more tech savvy teacher who delights and challenges students to think mathematically and to value the process, not just the final answer.

Is that the red streaks of sunrise that I see on the horizon, bidding farewell to the darkness that has consumed me?

Photo credit : (cc-by-nc-nd) Bruno Monginoux / : nature and urban photography, free stock photos