Looking Back

I am on a journey to learn how to effectively use technology to enhance teaching and learning.  The final destination of this journey is an elusive, currently undefined, technologically enhanced Math classroom based on the disruptive-innovation theory.  But since my goal is so far off in the distance that it appears to be a mere mirage, it is time to stop and take stock, to contemplate how far I have come, to look back to the beginning of this journey, in the hopes that this reflection will stave off despair and feelings of being overwhelmed, replacing these overwrought emotions with courage and strength to continue the journey.

So let’s flashback to ten years ago.  I am working in a segregated school in Abu Dhabi.  There is a big wall down the middle of campus separating the boys from the girls.  The Math office is on the boys’ side, so if the girls want to see me for extra help, they have to send a message to me.  Then I cross to the girls’ side to meet with them.  In my classrooms there is a chalkboard or whiteboard, coloured chalk (on a good day), and an overhead projector.  If I want to demonstrate calculator key strokes, the class goes one key stroke at a time, pausing to ensure everyone is ready to push the next key before we move on.  There is a computer lab down the hall for the computer classes and we have one computer in the Math office, shared by 8 of us.

Now speed forward to today.  I work in a one-to-one laptop school.  My tablet, smartboard, and projector are everyday tools.  When I want to demonstrate keystrokes on the calculator, I bring up my TI Smartview on the smartboard.  Students can watch me press each key on the huge projected calculator.  The tri-window view lets them know what all my background settings look like while the key stroke recorder allows them to work back through previous steps.  This is especially helpful for Algebra 1 students who may be using a graphing calculator for the first time.  These are tools that I now consider essential.  But if you add to that all the other accessories that are now utilized, even if on a less regular basis the list grows exponentially.  There is a document camera used to display and record exemplars of exceptional student work.  Numerous graphing software programs are used to bring clarity to messy, hand-drawn graphs (Padowan, Winplot, and Mathematica to name but a few).  Youtube videos are used to demonstrate concepts in a dynamic manner.  Java applets are used for both demonstration and investigation purposes.  Wikipedia and a host of internet sites allow for rapid gathering of information and tidbits to supplement and enhance the mathematical content.  Geometer’s Sketchpad, Geogebra and Sketchup provide dynamic tools for visualizing and understanding key mathematical concepts, such as parallel lines and planes, centers of triangles, and three dimensional figures.  The dynamic nature of these programs accomplishes understanding and engagement for students in a way that traditional methods of teaching never could.  When talking about volumes of revolution in Calculus, understanding dawns as students see the 3-dimensional shape develop as a curve rotates around an axis.  A recent addition to this list of tech tools used is Skype.  Students who were quarantined last year due to H1N1 “attended” class by having a friend call them on Skype and turn their laptops so the camera was facing the front of the room.  They were able to ask questions and follow along with the lesson.  What a change from ten years ago!

 This list of some currently utilized resources is not comprehensive, but it does encourage me to continue the journey.  Who knows, maybe that radically transformed math classroom is not so far away!  At least let’s hope it isn’t!