I am a little obsessed with edtech and integrating technology into math classrooms. It’s what I have been doing for the last 16 years of my educational career, first within my own school and district, and then, throughout the country through my work with Key Curriculum, McGraw-Hill, Kendall Hunt and Casio. I read a lot about the infusion of technology in schools these days, but my reality, when I go to schools and districts throughout the country, is that the use of technology in mathematics education is actually very, very limited. There are of course countless reasons for this – a big one being funding. Most schools I work with have 1-2 computer labs that math teachers rarely get to use, or they have a laptop cart shared between 15 math teachers. They have calculators – sometime – most of which are broken, have no batteries, or they honestly don’t know how to use. There are also the instances where there is a lot of technology available, but the teachers don’t know how to use it, don’t have resources to support it or they haven’t had a chance to find a place where it would support their curriculum.
The reasons for not using technology are many. But – in my own personal research, one of the biggest deterrents to integrating technology is lack of training and support. A recent survey of teachers by Samsung shows teachers do not feel prepared to use technology in classrooms. Not a surprise. Unfortunately, the majority of professional development is still the one-stop workshop, where new technology/apps/ are bought and teachers are trained for a few hours on the tool, with little or no emphasis on teaching with the tool, which is the most important aspect of technology integration. Technology is only a tool – and when used appropriately, can enhance and expand learning. This involves more than learning how the tool works. It involves looking at the curriculum and instructional goals, determining what tools (of which technology is only one) are going to provide the best fit, and then creating instruction that incorporates the tool as part of the learning, not as an add on, not as something extra we do after we learn. This is what is missing most of the time – helping teachers make technology fit into their instruction as part of the learning, not as something extra.
One of the things I found in my research is that if teachers are provided with pre-made, ready-to-use lessons that can replace current lessons and use the new technology, they are more likely to start using it, especially in the beginning stages of learning. Lack of confidence is a huge reason teachers don’t use, or continue using, new technology – this is helped if they are given a push, especially in the first stages of learning, that allows them to use technology without too much stress – i.e. the lesson is ready to go, there are teacher notes/guidelines, and it FITS INTO THEIR CURRICULUM. In the Samsung survey, 80 percent of teachers said it would be helpful to have pre-existing lesson plans that help them easily integrate technology. I found this was one of the strongest indicators of continued integration of technology in my research. It’s one of the things Key Curriculum provided for Sketchpad, it’s one of the things Casio provides for their calculators. If teachers are given new technology and ready-to-use lessons that show them and students how to work with the technology while learning required content, they are much more likely to use the technology. And – the more they use, they more confident they become with it, the more likely there will be continued implementation.
To go along with ready-to-use technology lessons, ones that scaffold learning for both teachers and students, is collaborative lesson planning. Teachers should have the chance to work together to plan lessons to incorporate technology. Again, in my own research, teachers expressed how the monthly collaborations with other teachers from around the district, as well as the online sharing community, really helped support their own efforts to integrate technology and gave them new ideas. Sharing ideas, planning for where technology is appropriate, learning from each other – all of this is powerful in helping teachers be more confident in using technology in instruction. There is no reason for teachers to reinvent the wheel for every lesson – if there is a premade lesson out there, or a lesson another teacher has tried, that will support others integrating technology, there should be sharing and collaboration. Teaching is a profession, not an isolated, individual endeavor – we should be working together to improve and help students learn and help each other learn.