Unpacking my assumptions

Unpacking Assumptions

Proper use of Digital Technology in the Math and Science Classroom is dependent on the reason for use. If a teacher is planning to do what they have always done, with the new twist being they have put the same lessons and readings on line then the implementation of the digital technology is likely to be no more effective than the lessons presented with out the use of the technology. Technology is not a magic gadget that improves lessons on its own.

In my previous course ETEC 565A a fellow student remarked how her daughters classes (grade 8) had “changed” because of technology. Basically, the students went into the classroom, watched some YouTube video lectures and then did seat work. If they were confused they were directed to rewatch the video. I took a lot of issue with this approach. What exactly were the teachers doing during this time? Where was the “learning”? Was there any hands on discovery by the students? When did they test their hypotheses? The above scenario, I think we all agree would not be a good use of technology in the Science and Math classrooms.

During my previous nine MET courses I have come to realize I am a very “grey” person. I do not see things in black or white. To give an example in terms of technology in math, I see its uses being very widespread, especially at the elementary level. First of all, although there is much debate about the need for students to master computational math skills with out the aide of a calculator, I still find student’s skills improve more using “computational games” on the computer than using flash cards. The games not only challenge the student but when they are done in a computer game format they allow the student to progress at their skill level, encourage them to try to reach the next level of the game, provide rewards for improved time and skill, as well as, allows the student to progress without someone grading them or saying correct or incorrect when using flash cards. So although there are other ways to drill computation skills, technology improves this experience for the student.

The use of digital technology can be very beneficial in other ways as well. Teacher’s can use technology to aide them in creating blended classrooms. Where material is presented in various formats and students work through stations. The technology aides students in working independently or with others to solve problems, understand concepts and review material. One of the stations is teacher led, and the teacher is available to assist any group that requires it. Students are able to watch and review material, as well as, watch recorded demonstrations created by the teacher whenever they need to. Students are also able to work on simulations that are especially valueable in stem classes. In physics, students can see how the changing of a variable changes the outcome. In mathematics, students solving problems on tablets and explaining their solutions would allow the teacher to review the material if it seems that the student has misconceptions.

Another valuable factor of using digital technology in stem classes is that it aides in students constructing their knowledge. They are able to review steps that they do not understand. They are able to extend their learning if they have mastered the current skill. They are able to investigate other areas of interest. I have become a firm believer in students constructing their knowledge. It is a proven fact (research by Dr. D Levitan) that our brain and bodies suffer when we try to multitask. Our neurons become exhausted very quickly and then our attention wanes. We become much less skilled at each task the more we try to multitask. So if we continue to look at the research it also states children are bombarded by information and tasks changing constantly. That they are attempting to learn (in the most inefficient way possible if the teacher is a chalk and talker) when they are over come by stimuli.
What stimuli:
Social issues –
why are my friends laughing and I don’t know why?
I wonder why Bobby didn’t invite me to his party?

Physical issues-
I am hungry, when is snack or lunch… what will I eat
I stayed up way too late last night, I just want to have a nap

I can’t wait to get home and try to get to the next level of that video game
I hope hockey practice goes well tonight so coach starts me in the next game

Class issues-
my parents are going to be mad I got a C on my math test
I have no idea what this teacher is talking about.

Add to this that students- well all of us attend best to what interests us most and it becomes very apparent, me talking at the front of the room isn’t going to make it on their most important items to remember. The more active learning becomes the easier it is recalled. When students are up learning, testing, retesting etc they have more pathways encoding the learning. Digital technologies are a great way to let students proceed at their own pace and take their learning on paths that interest them.

Digital Technologies are an excellent way to help dispel misconceptions. For example, if a student has difficulty understanding how electrical circuits work (in series) they could work on a program that allows them to change the variables with switches. If they change one of the variables it can change the outcome. They will see the action and reaction, the appliance or light working or not.

In my opinion there are several road blocks to the proper use of technology in the classroom.
1. Teachers who do not understand and perhaps do not wish to understand how the technology can help in delivering their content and enable students to construct their knowledge.
2. Not enough teacher in service to allow teachers to be comfortable with new technologies.
3. Not enough hardware for all students to use technology when required.
4. Not enough bandwidth to support the programs that are running.
5. Too much stress about what students are doing on their devices (Facebook, texting etc).
6. Keeping information protected on open networks.

I believe we need to demonstrate to the nay Sayers what awesome things can be accomplished with digital technologies. Allow BYOD programs so that more students have access to devices. Improved bandwidth so classes don’t wait in limbo for their programs or activities to load. All of these roadblocks are manageable we just have to prove it is worth it.


Daniel J. Levitan, The Organized Mind (thinking straight in the age of information overload), 2014.


  1. Hi Catherine,
    I agree with you that technology needs to be integrated as a support. I remember that disappointing YouTube conversation coming up in our class last semester. A similar issue seemed to arise in our district with the use of Tumblebooks, a site that we had a license to where you could listen to and watch books read. Even though this allows for a great supplement or even as an opportunity for an independent station as you mention in your post, it was at times used as a babysitter in some classrooms. Parents got wind of this experience in some classrooms and now we no longer have a subscription to this program because it was not being used properly in a few classrooms. I think one of the problems here lies in the lack of education to teachers to show them all of the different ways these technology supports can be used in the classroom. As you mention, too often technology is viewed by some teachers as something they can throw into the same old lessons. Technology should be transformative and exciting! I have certainly found it to be that way in the MET program with everything I have experienced and played around with in these courses. Great post!

  2. Catherine,

    Excellent points. I wanted to piggyback off your comments about bandwidth/hardware tech in the classroom is another area where inequality can sneak in, creating ‘have’ and ‘have not’ school. This can be due to remote locations and unreliable internet connections. It can also be created when a parent group in a well-to-do area fundraises for hardware that other schools would not be able to afford. Finally, it can be created by the presence (or lack thereof) of teacher-leaders whose passion and knowledge bring tech assisted learning into schools (interestingly, this can be at any school, regardless of socio-economic status).


  3. So true Joshua,
    And even at a more basic level the difference between families. I work in a school in a rural area. Until fifteen years ago it was a town built around fully working farms. In the last five to ten years it has become an affordable satellite community to the greater Toronto area (although it is an hour and a half drive to Toronto with and commuter train access is forty minutes away). It has gone from a quiet community of very middle low economic families (as mentioned many of my students live on the family farm and get up at five am to milk cows and miss school during haying season) to new neighbourhoods where homes are now averaging 500-700 thousand dollars. It has been such a change. We have kids with their own computer, smart phones and tablets with high speed internet at home and those who have one family computer with limited internet and they are rarely allowed to use the computer because older siblings need it or it is needed for farm business.
    Wealthier parents provide devices for BYOD while many other parents say it is not possible for them.

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