When all the technology in the world won't help

Summary:A masters thesis fell into my lap earlier this year when I switched second semester classes and taught another section of informal geometry. I decided to look at the section I taught in the first semester with an inclusion teacher versus the section I was teaching second semester.

A masters thesis fell into my lap earlier this year when I switched second semester classes and taught another section of informal geometry. I decided to look at the section I taught in the first semester with an inclusion teacher versus the section I was teaching second semester. I didn't have inclusion support, but I decided to use technology (Geometer's Sketchpad and Excel) to supplement classroom instruction. My goal was to see which class performed better on tests and the final with a followup on their standardized test scores next year.

Seems reasonable enough. However, while the first class wasn't exactly a group of high achievers (informal geometry is a conceptual approach that we take for students who really struggle with math; we avoid proof entirely, skip the trigonometry identities, and gloss over analytic geometry), most were willing to put in the effort, especially with one on one help.

The second semester class, however, was a different breed of cat. A third of the students needed weekly reports for their probation officers, a third genuinely need inclusion support, and a third just need to stay conscious. For these kids, technology just got in the way of forcing the math into their brains. I could have spent a week just getting them all to use Sketchpad correctly, let alone getting them to use it for visualization. A simple exercise to verify the Pythagorean theorem turned into a drawn out afternoon of forcing kids to follow basic directions. For those who made it through the directions, the geometric proof was completely lost, despite being completely visual.

This is in complete contrast to a pre-calculus class that I usually get to sit in on (the teacher uses my room during my prep, so I often get to observe his lectures). The teacher is a master of integrating graphing calculators to illustrate concepts without allowing students to rely on them as a crutch. The calculators simply become one more tool, like a whiteboard, a handout, or a group activity, and the kids switch naturally under his instruction between graphical, analytic, and mathematical methods of problem solving.

My point is that I'm not giving up on technology in the classroom. Obviously, I'm no Luddite. However, my thesis is getting rewritten to look at non-technological approaches for students who really struggle with geometry (and their behavior). There is a point where the tech gets in the way and just can't be turned around to help the kids. Talk back below and let us know where your best and worst classroom tech experiences have occurred.

Topics: CXO, Collaboration, Microsoft, Software

About

Christopher Dawson grew up in Seattle, back in the days of pre-antitrust Microsoft, coffeeshops owned by something other than Starbucks, and really loud, inarticulate music. He escaped to the right coast in the early 90's and received a degree in Information Systems from Johns Hopkins University. While there, he began a career in health a... Full Bio

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