Idealism and Reality in Mathematics Technology

So, you're making your technology pitch to the school. You've just been to the conference and still feel the warm buzz of The Future, and you want the teachers to embrace the blogs, the wikis, the collaboration with schools in different cities, different states, different continents.


\n\n

Then you meet resistance.

\n\n

You up your game: you set up workshops, seminars, buy new software, buy new hardware, try to convert a few followers hoping entire departments will follow.

\n\n

Maybe you grab the English department and suddenly have every student in school with their own blog. Perhaps the technology people are putting student-produced videos on YouTube. You hear the foreign language folks are using Skype to call Mexico and work with a network of 5 classes.

\n\n

(Ok, ok, idealism here. But these things are at least possible.)

\n\n

But hit the math department –

And all I'm saying is, look, I've got some math to teach over here. And until I can count on two fingers the number of math teachers who are building a meaningful practice out of tech, until this stuff begins to approximate the importance of a cash register to a grocery store checker . . .

which is the good reaction. (Quote from Dan Meyer.)

\n\n

A lot of technology-coordination-types seem puzzled by this – why should math be any different from other subjects when adopting modern tech? – but it is, and there are (at least) three major reasons why.

\n\n

The difficulty in working with equations on a computer

\n\n

Sure, high school math teachers do statistics, and graphs, and even the occasional art project, but the meat of the content is working with equations. Even something easy to type like

\n\n

Solve for x: 2+x = 3

\n\n

can be a bear to demonstrate the steps on, and maybe could be done with fixed fonts and a fiddle like

\n\n

2+x=3
-2  -2
  x=1

\n\n

but this is a post-understanding sort of kludge, and it's not simply possible to work with things as easily as paper.

\n\n

Students 3.0

\n\n

The first graphing calculator was introduced in 1985, and it's been a battle ever since.

\n\n

One camp is fundamentally opposed to the notion of using graphing calculators, while the others think graphing calculators should be used at every level. This is still ongoing even though the AP Calculus tests require a graphing calculator and college expects students to arrive with the skills. (At one university I know of, they give incoming students a list of calculator tasks and say "if you don't know how to do these, figure it out, because we're not going to teach you.")

\n\n

Because the acceptance of graphing calculators is nearly a prerequisite for many modern math apps, arguments get stalled at the door. In other words, upgrading to wikis and the like is version 3.0, and 2.0 is still in beta.

\n\n

Sometimes there really is only one right answer

\n\n

With disciplines where multiple viewpoints are all equally valid, it's easy to have a collaborative discussion where every contribution is valued and important. When solving a problem with only one right answer, snarls can hit. Maybe one student dominates the discussion, or things shut down too early, or everyone is stuck in a way that requires massive teacher intervention. These issues often aren't discussed, and the edict to focus on process rather than solution gets messy in practice. (Although it's a start, and even if there's only one solution there may be multiple ways to get there.)

\n\n

How this week will roll

\n\n

I'm going to switch between general assessments of what's going on and specific examples. I'm going to make a wish list for what I'd like to see in modern technology, because my sentiments match closely with the quote above.

\n\n

I'm going to need your help. Some things I'm wanting really don't exist, but I'm hoping there's hidden gems out there I haven't come across yet. If nothing else, maybe a developer will take notice and fill the gaps.

\n\n

Jason Dyer, Guest Blogger

\n

Compelling speakers do these 4 things every single time

The ability to speak clearly, succinctly, and powerfully is easier than you think

Former U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee rally at the Anaheim Convention Center on September 8, 2018 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Barbara Davidson/Getty Images)
Personal Growth

The ability to communicate effectively can make or break a person's assessment of your intelligence, competence, and authenticity.

Keep reading Show less

This 5-minute neck scan can spot dementia 10 years before it emerges

The results come from a 15-year study that used ultrasound scans to track blood vessels in middle-aged adults starting in 2002.

Mikhail Kalinin via Wikipedia
Mind & Brain
  • The study measured the stiffness of blood vessels in middle-aged patients over time.
  • Stiff blood vessels can lead to the destruction of delicate blood vessels in the brain, which can contribute to cognitive decline.
  • The scans could someday become a widely used tool to identify people at high risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer's.
Keep reading Show less

How 'dark horses' flip the script of success and happiness

What defines a dark horse? The all-important decision to pursue fulfillment and excellence.

Big Think Books

When we first set the Dark Horse Project in motion, fulfillment was the last thing on our minds. We were hoping to uncover specific and possibly idiosyncratic study methods, learning techniques, and rehearsal regimes that dark horses used to attain excellence. Our training made us resistant to ambiguous variables that were difficult to quantify, and personal fulfillment seemed downright foggy. But our training also taught us never to ignore the evidence, no matter how much it violated our expectations.

Keep reading Show less