Monthly Archives: July 2015

I Really LOVE These Math Tools, But…..

While the meat and potatoes of my recent ISTE session dealt with classroom use of the Desmos graphing calculator, a number of conversations with attendees after the session, both in person and via e-mail, moved in a different direction.  Specifically, the teachers I spoke with want to know where free apps fit in a handheld graphing calculator world?.  Some Q&A here….I’m hoping other will share their experiences and ideas.

Q: I’m not a 1-1 school.  How does this fit in my school?

Even though I work (and live) in a “nice” suburban district with decent financial support, I struggle to get technology working in my classroom.  A teacher across the hall from me has a cart, but the laptops there are slower than Cecil turtle and generally the educational payoff is not worth the technology aggravation.  We have a few computer labs available to use, but a lab scenario is often not what I am seeking for in my lessons.

cell phone

But all of my students have cell phones, and by the end of the first week with me we have used them a number of ways to explore and communicate.  Desmos works remarkably well on a cell phone, kids pick it up immediately, and many have it on throughout class time to use.  While the app is nice, our wifi is quite good so we prefer using the web version. For stats class, Stat Key was a welcome online addition, and allowed for many class investigations.

Q: But don’t your kids end up texting in class?

Yep, kids are generally weasels, when provided the opportunity.  But I recall my own 8th grade math class, where I passed notes constantly.  I’m relieved that none of my teachers told me I had lost paper and pencil privledges over my middle-school note-transit system.

I’m constantly reviewing my classroom management style, and make revisions based on readings and discussions.  I’m confident that handheld devices aren’t going anyplace soon, so I have two options: utilize the technology or bury my head deeper in the sand.  Sure, there are moments where I resort to silly tactics to focus my high schoolers – cell phones face down, corner of the desk, or away altogether.  But making sure students understand responsible use of technology should be build into our classroom mission; I’ll do my part to prepare them for these eventualities.

Q: Do you mandate your students purchase graphing calculators?

This question has many tentacles for me.  I teach honors freshmen, so my suggestion has usually been to consider purchasing a device, learn how to use it well in our courses, and this will put them in a good place for AP Calculus.  Also, I teach AP Statistics, where a graphing calculator is an indispensible tool and I do expect them to have one. (Yes, there are some great individual sites and apps for statistics. But the TI products are still ideal for what we do in AP Stats).  I also have a class set of Nspires, which helps with our non-AP students.

So, the short answer here is a conditional “yes”, but it is becoming much more difficult for me to stand in front of parents at Back to School night and justify the purchase, especially after I discuss the many tools we use in my class.  I also understand that while I am comfortable with many new, free tools, many of my colleagues are not.  I need to consider where I reside in my department’s tech eco-system.

I’m expecting that my answer to this question will shift to a definitive “no” in the next few years.  Until then, some creative solutions, like graphing calculator loan-out programs, may be a way to go.

Q: What about standardized tests?

In AP Stats, students are expected to bring a device to use to the exam, and know how to use it.  So, there is responsibility on my end to ensure that my students have meaningful problems and practice.  There has been chatter of AP eventually moving to an online administration, but I didn’t hear anything concrete about this at last month’s AP reading.  SAT and ACT exams still expect students to bring their own approved calculator devices.  With many of the recent bad press there has been over exam exposure and cheating, I have trouble seeing a scenario anytime soon where any communication devices would be allowed.  Put another notch in the “I still need my students to have a graphing calculator” column.

But if you take a look at some online versions of state and national assessments, you’ll see students provided tools within the test.  And there are some exciting things happening regarding ipads and other non-traditional devices. Texas recently approved the Desmos test-mode app for use on state assessments, where the first attempts at implentation occured recently. Cathy Yenca chronicles her experiences with this on her blog, and you can read more about implentation issues on the Hooked on Innovation blog.

It’s an exciting time to be a math teacher, but also one where some technology growing pains will occur.  Looking forward to hearing what other schools and districts are thinking.

ISTE 2015 – Keep the Learning in Focus

Anytime I do a blog post which is a list, my traffic shoots up.

– A friend / tech-blogger

cuethinkThis post has been rattling around in my head since the end of the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) Annual Conference last week. I most appreciated the chance to meet and discuss technology war stories with folks I had only “met” before through twitter, make new connections in the math world, and think about how new ideas and products will change my classroom culture.  But trying to summarize the experience in a blog post is difficult.  There’s just too much stuff – new tools, inspiring people, great school action – how can I fit it all in?

I got it — I’ll make a list!!!

Often, the most popular presentations are those which feature lists – it’s a great device for getting foot traffic to your session.

  • Amazing Chrome Apps and Extensions to Enhance Teaching and Learning!
  • The Magic Bag of New Presentation Tools for Teachers
  • 60 in 60 – App Attack

I confess I enjoyed Steve Dembo’s list session – “Something Old, Something New” – which challenged participants to share tools on Twitter and think about how “old” tools still could be thoroughly effective in the classroom, and not to toss them for new things, while also embracing the new.  Sessions featuring lists can be intoxicating hours of “wow”.

After my session featuring Desmos on day 1, I was energized to think about a session for next year.  There were few math-specific sessions at ISTE, and the group I worked with seemed appreciatice and eager for more.  There are many, many math tools I use in my classroom, and I’d love to share them…I even have a title:

The Math Tech Tool SmackDown!

60 minutes – 10 to 15 math tools, lots of oohs and aahs over their wonderfulness, some quick examples, a few cute anecdotes, and everyone leaves happy.

Teachers LOVE lists!

The list is also a cop-out.

List sessions are often one-sided affairs.  The presenter moves rapid-fire through tools with examples, and the time crunch to get to everything means little time for discussion.  The application and personalization are left for the user to figure out later.  They aren’t BAD sessions at all (heck, my last post on this blog is a list…and you’ll find many other lists buried here on the blog), just know going in that discussion of pedagogy will not be the order of the day.  Follow up that list session with a smaller group opportunity and syntthesize your new learning immediately.

I’m suddenly feeling less excited (and a little guilty) about my Math Tool Smack-Down.  Some twitter sharing from a colleague helps lend some clarity to my thoughts:

Yes!  It’s about best teaching practice – not the tool (duh!).  It’s easy to forget that in the tsunami of stuff (and swag) at a big tech conference.

Jed Butler is such a great math resource, and an awesome friend.  He came as a participant to my Desmos session, and ended up being a vital resource when the tech went south.  He also acted as my button-pusher, and general problem-solver.  On the last day of the conference, a lunch conversation of math tools developed into a potential ISTE talk for next year, featuring problem-posing as a framework for making use of apps and tools.  Such exciting conversation, and there will be a lot more to come this month when Jed and I (along with Mike Fenton and Glenn Waddell) share Desmos morning sessions at Twitter Math Camp.

Extending conversations beyond conferences – one of the most powerful aspects of my participation in the Math-Twitter-Blog-OSpehere.  Keep a lookout here on the blog as we get deeper into July as the group shares out classroom ideas.

Thanks to Priness Choi for sharing out her experience in my session.  Yes, I move around a lot!