Screen Shot 2014-06-02 at 1.25.22 PMIn the last couple weeks I’ve attended the Learning Forward Ontario Spring Conference, OAME 2014 and the “Connecting with the Digital World” conference. In all of them, I listened to presenters talk about the use of technology, social media, flipped classrooms, blended classrooms and learning management systems – all with promises of better learning for our students.

It made me think hard about what I do in my classrooms, what I work on with teachers in my math coaching role and as I consult and speak with math teachers, administrators and math leaders. I continually ask teachers to think hard about their instructional decisions – why are you doing it that way?

Let’s take the topic of the flipped classroom. The intention is that the direct instruction is in a video format watched at home, freeing up time in the classroom for more interaction between the teacher and the students. My first reaction would be why direct instruction was necessary in the first place – and how is that any different then what is happening in a traditional classroom?   If a teacher is using this method to teach math every day, how is it differentiating for learners in your classroom? I see it as juggling the traditional lecture around rather than moving forward into a new learning paradigm.

Punya Mishra (MSU) once told me “A lecture is a lecture is a lecture” – and it stuck with me. Putting a lecture in a video format can’t lead to any investigation – just more of being told what to do. Using technology to teach the same mathematical topics in fundamentally the same ways that could be taught without technology does not strengthen students’ learning. The use of the video that is a lecture will only influence your students to take things at face value or to become “naïve empiricists”.

Inevitably, I would want my students to own their learning – because that is when there is deep, transformative things happening.   How can new knowledge be actively constructed in such a teacher-centred environment? Given that, if you choose to provide a video to view prior to class, what could that follow-up classroom look like? What rich and valuable discussions could take place as a result from watching the video?

Maybe it comes down to what is appropriate for your learning goal and how will you jumpstart the thinking and how will you follow through. It will be more about what your video accomplishes and if the video sparks their curiosity – driving them to want to learn more the next day instead of just doing more of the same type of questions.

So here are the questions I would ask when planning technology-based activities in the math classroom:

  • Why does it make sense to use technology for the learning goal in mind?
  • How will the technology enhance the learning of the important mathematics for your lesson/topic?   In other words, activities should support sound mathematical goals and should not be developed merely because technology makes them possible.
  • Does your lesson support and facilitate conceptual development, exploration, reasoning and proving, problem solving and investigations?

Don’t get me wrong – I am excited about the great potential for many of the available resources for math teachers. We know that many students struggle connecting verbal, graphical, numerical and algebraic representations and I believe that there are many opportunities to be creative and to help our student make such connections. Let’s make the best use of multiple representations, enhanced by the use of technology to encourage and support our students in applying different approaches to problem solving and engage them in creative and critical thinking.