Worth the Effort: Overcoming Technological Obstacles in Teaching

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As with any aspect of teaching, involving technology in the classroom comes with inherent obstacles. Limited resource availability and inadequate teacher training are two of the most obvious difficulties surrounding technology-based learning, but even teaching environments in which these concerns are addressed may still lead to ineffective learning if teachers have unproductive views about classroom technology use. As outlined by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) (2014), such unproductive beliefs include the beliefs that technological tools are a frill or distraction, the learning of mathematics is static and threatened by the presence of technology, and using technology is as simple as launching an app and letting the students work on their own. Each of these beliefs are harmful to student learning because they either fail to recognize the potential of technology to increase student understanding or rely on technology as an easy fall-back method.

Replacing unproductive beliefs about technology with beneficial ones is the first step for teachers learning to use technology effectively. Long-standing teachers may be quick to argue that conventional teaching methods of class note-taking and homework assignments are tried and true, but this fails to recognize that “[t]echnology is an inescapable fact of life in the world in which we live and should be embraced as a powerful tool for doing mathematics” (NCTM, 2014, p. 82). Observing teachers who embrace this view of technology helps to prove just how beneficial technology can be. For example, a geometry teacher utilizing Geometer’s Sketch Pad to help his students discover theorems regarding circles is a meaningful alternative to having his students copy the theorems in the conventional manner before completing a worksheet. Through technology-aided discovery, the students in this example gain relational understanding of these theorems, that is, they see why the theorems are true. The latter, more conventional, alternative comparatively illustrates instrumental understanding, which Skemp (1978) explains as “rules without reasons.” Thus, teachers who re-imagine technology use in the classroom with investigative activities prepare their students as relational learners able to embrace technology in the 21st century.

Realizing technology’s place in the classroom must also come with adequate preparation for its use. Part of this preparation comes with professional development and practice incorporating technology in lessons. Scaffolding is an important dimension of preparing students for technology use and involves introducing technologically-based activities to students in a piecemeal fashion, which, as Niess (2005) explains, “keeps the activity’s focus on the mathematics.” In this way, effectively using technology requires more than directing students to an app or website and letting them go. The success of technology-based teaching depends on the degree of planning and preparation dedicated to it.

Today’s students use technology in every aspect of their lives, and they will continue to do so into adulthood. Why would teachers avoid utilizing technology in the classroom if by so doing they not only teach students math but also prepare them for the world in which they will live and work? Rather than be intimidated by all that goes into using technology in the classroom, get excited by all of the opportunities for understanding that it affords!

References

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (2014). Principles to action: Ensuring

mathematical success for all [E-book]. Reston, VA: Author.

Niess, Margaret L. (2005). Scaffolding math learning with spreadsheets. Learning and 

Leading with Technology, 32(5), 48.

Skemp, R. (1978). Relational understanding and instrumental understanding. Arithmetic

Teacher, 152-161.

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