In a word, yes. Here’s why: students today are inseparable from their technology.
You have likely heard leaders in your school or district state that students “are not the same today!” Those leaders are not wrong. Students’ ubiquitous use of technology is one of the things that set them apart from prior generations. Students today seemingly embrace anything and everything technology-related.
Students today cannot imagine a world without technology. It is embedded in their daily lives. So it is only natural that students expect to have access to technology in the classroom.
Mathematics classrooms must reflect this reality and be places where teachers and students use technology. But mathematics classrooms must not be places where technology is used simply for the sake of using technology. In an effective mathematics program, technology is a tool to support teaching and learning.
Appropriate Use of Technology
The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics argues that “an excellent mathematics program integrates the use of mathematical tools and technology as essential resources to help students learn and make sense of mathematical ideas, reason mathematically, and communicate their mathematical thinking.” In other words, technology must be used to engage students in tasks that promote their learning of important mathematics and their ability to make sense of mathematics. This is true at both the elementary and secondary level.
It is critical to note that the research is clear: appropriate use of technology can enhance students’ understanding of mathematical concepts. The use of technology also dictates that we instructionally broaden our goals beyond answer finding to include a focus on the reasonableness of answers and how results will be used in a given context. This is critical so students don’t blindly accept the answers a calculator may provide.
Dynamic mathematical technologies, whether the platform is an advanced graphing calculator, website, or specific application on a tablet or computer, provide an interactive environment where students can examine and visualize multiple representations of functions and dynamically link symbolic expressions, numerical data, and graphs. Data analysis tools (calculators, APPS, or software) allow students to work with real data and test hypotheses. Interactive geometry tools allow students to explore and test geometric conjectures. Computer algebra systems [CAS] allow students to work with complicated algebraic statements so they can shift their focus to mathematical modeling and problem solving. All of these tools represent ways in which mathematics is used in the 21st century.
Technology is Necessary, But Insufficient
Technological tools truly support student development of a deep understanding of mathematical relationships and mathematical structure – allowing us to focus more on conceptual knowledge and problem solving. The technology tools mentioned above are the technologies that individuals engaged in STEM professions use on a daily basis. It would simply be educational malpractice not to leverage these technology tools to advance and motivate student learning.
But it is critical to remember that these are just tools. No piece of technology will ever replace a highly effective teacher. The bottom line is that effective teaching is about engaging students with worthwhile mathematical tasks in ways that help them develop a deep understanding of mathematical concepts. Effective teachers of mathematics leverage technology as a tool to support student engagement and learning, but not as an end onto itself.
Dr. Matt Larson is the 2016 President Elect of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) and served on the Board of Directors for NCTM from 2010 to 2013. He is a past chair of NCTM's Research Committee and was a member of NCTM's Task Force on Linking Research and Practice. He is the author of several books on implementing the Common Core Standards for Mathematics. He has taught mathematics at the secondary and college levels and held an appointment as an honorary visiting associate professor at Teachers College, Columbia University.
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