For decades, the Ringling Bros. Circus has amazed crowds with its balancing acts, but these performers are not the only ones who have mastered the art of high-pressure balancing. Math teachers, too, are among those who must learn how to balance, albeit in a different form. Instead of mastering the high wire, math teachers must balance the many ways in which to present information to students, including time for group work, individual investigation, and interactive lessons that lead students to personal discovery. Among the variations in teaching methods, teachers must find how to incorporate technology into the mix. With the advent of technology, many teachers view technology use in the classroom in black and white terms: either a class uses technology or it does not. However, this view is equivalent to keeping Dorothy in Kansas while the Technicolor world of Oz is at her fingertips. That is, teachers can utilize technology in the classroom without making every activity digital or every homework assignment online.
To master the art of balancing in a math classroom, teachers must recognize the potential and limits of technology. The greatest advantage of studying math does not lie in procedural fluency or even mastery of a given concept. Rather, the greatest benefit of studying math is learning how to reason and problem solve. Technology can be an incredible tool to promote this end. Even presenting students with a problem that requires technology but having them determine which technology would be most effective works to build reasoning skills. However, when technology is not carefully implemented in math lessons, it can serve as a crutch that hinders students from developing solutions with their mind. In today’s culture, students are inundated with technology almost 24/7. But whether they are playing games, posting an Insta, or sending a Snapchat, students almost exclusively interact with technology in a mindless manner. It follows that when students are first introduced to technology in the math classroom, they view it as a shortcut to problem solving. “As long as I can use this app, I won’t have to think as hard.” In this way, teachers must learn to involve technology in the classroom in such a way as to change students’ mindsets about the technological tools at their fingertips. When a student gets a job at an engineering firm, all of the technology in the world will be of no use if she has not developed a mind that can reason how, when, and why, it should be used.
Whether you are a veteran teacher, new teacher, or future teacher, the prospect of finding the balance of technology in the classroom can be intimidating. But remember, even even high-wire performers have taken falls when learning to balance, and past failure does not negate the potential for future success. Though it takes effort, teachers who learn to balance technology use in the math classroom will service their students by teaching them to think with the technology in their world.