My perspectives on the promise of technology in math and science classrooms

When considering good use of technology in the math and science classroom my ideas always hit the wall of what I view as actually financially feasible.  With any new technology, and in fact even with technology which is well entrenched in learning institutions, the problem of financing updates to both hardware and software as well as employing enough information technology specialists to deal with these issues is daunting.

When I consider my vision of good use of digital technology in the math and science classrooms, I need first to consider what is currently taking place. Firstly, there is a lack of strategic planning. There needs to be a school improvement plan or even better a school board improvement plan that indicates ways that technology should (can?) be incorporated into our classrooms to support students. It should outline a plan to train educators in a variety of technology tools, provide an outline as to how technology can and should be used and accessed by students, and should involve some way of reporting back to ensure that these steps are being taken and how to move forward from here. Technology cannot continue to be seen as an “add-on” but rather an integral part of good math and science learning.  I fear this does not happen because our school board does not have the means to make this happen, so they are rolling out new hardware with a lack of training and follow up, or the training is done once and there is no follow up.  So at our school board there are pockets of good technology use happening, but it is inconsistent and beliefs about the “promise” of technology are divergent.

After reading the course readings for module A, I found a connection between my initial thoughts and the ideas outlined in the article about the Brewster Academy. I was struck by the extent of the overhaul they felt was needed in order for technology enabled school reform to occur. The considerations required to pull this off were immense and included needs assessment, policy building, instructional supports, professional development, hardware considerations, personnel requirements, costs, etc. (Bain, Bain & Smith, 2000). As I noted earlier, technology as an “add-on” simply does not work. The Brewster Academy, in attempting to reform their school started basically at square one and in a way “re-built” their school and how it operated from the ground up, no small feat. It also struck me that they required educators to acquire sophisticated skills in a range of teaching methods and technology applications, and that they placed importance of these of educators understanding the connectedness and interrelatedness of the curricula and technology (Bain, Bain & Smith, 2000).

Since I work in an elementary setting the problems are compounded by the fact that many of the technology initiatives and hardware are earmarked for the high schools or higher educational settings. In addition, our BYOD (Bring your own device) policies are in their infancy and often misunderstood or blatantly shot down in the elementary school setting for fear of using technology to browse social networks, cheat on tests, etc. In addition, we have I-pad carts which can be “signed out” for one period and must be shared with the school. Any productivity done on these I-Pads is then “wiped” as they are charged on the I-Pad cart. The laptop computers have a variety of issues including missing keyboard keys, broken lids, firewalls that severely limit usage as well as the password and login protections that make these devices of limited use to young students. In addition, many of the grade 2 students I teach have limited experience with a keyboard as they are growing up in the generation of “touch screen”, and so they must master this to some degree before using the laptops.

This being said, I envision students using technology seamlessly throughout the day to carry out a variety of investigations, research, watch video, create video, test hypotheses, video chat with other students or experts globally, access virtual field trips, present information digitally or in other technological formats, use technology as an assistive device, capture images and sound, remix and create new products, view and create 3 dimensional objects to gain deeper understandings, create stop action products, etc. There are so many ways technology CAN be incorporated but there must be:

  • technology available
  • expertise available (even if this comes from the students, which often it does
  • time available. By this I mean, to work around sharing technology, scheduling, curricular demands, workload demands, time for training and professional development, time to “play” with technologies so that we can wrap our head around the capabilities.

One example of this is Google Earth. I am aware of Google Earth and I use it in a very limited way with my students because I have not had the time to learn more about it. From what I have heard there are many amazing ways to incorporate it into teaching, but there are only so many hours in a day and it has stayed on the backburner for me. So again, the promise of technology hits another roadblock. These are my thoughts and I look forward to your comments.

 

 

Bain, A., Alan Bain, & David Smith. (10/01/2000). THE journal : Technological horizons in education: Technology enabling school reform Information Synergy.

3 comments

  1. I agree with a lot of your observations regarding the constraints that are evident when trying to integrate or utilize digital technology seamlessly into the classroom without the available training or equipment to do so. We also have to sign out chrome book carts and iPad carts in order to use them in the classroom. If you are not planned far enough in advance, or you find the perfect opportunity to use them but they are already signed out, you cannot utilize them effectively. Often I have signed them out only to realize we are not far enough along in the program to use them, which is frustrating. How I wish I could have a class set of chrome books so the students could begin to integrate them into their own learning much as I use my laptop every day. We do have a BYOD policy in place and as an intermediate teacher I often rely heavily on the student’s using their smart phones to research information because we cannot get the device cart.

    Anne

  2. Hello Michelle and Anne, What your posts really highlight is the need for hardware. It is mind boggling to know that an elementary school has but one set of i-Pads. As Anne has pointed out, she is relying on mobiles but unless you are doing something simple, a phone just doesn’t cut it. My high school of 550, has one Chromebook cart and our set of iPads has recently been divided into groups of 6 and distributed to certain teachers. One Chromebook cart does not cost too much money— I’m guessing around $6000 for the cart and the devices. It isn’t insurmountable, whatever the cost is. I know teachers who are very skilled at applying for grant money, too— they typically purchase devices for their room. Should you go to schools in more affluent neighbourhoods, you can really see the inequality. (Our “rich people public school” has a Chromebook cart on each floor, in addition to multiple computer labs— PAC funding really helps!) Just this last year in our District, the school board sold some land and the money was earmarked for technology. Every classroom has since been outfitted with a mounted projector and sound system and every continuing teacher received a laptop. I am not sure if I agree with the laptop thing, but I, for one, am not about to say no to technology! ~Dana

  3. Great conversation thread everyone,
    Our school has ipad’s for use in the primary grades and two Chromebook carts for grades 4-8. The school board wanted to evaluate the use of the iPad and whether or not to renew the lease. The question came about how as to how to evaluate a product you are not allowed to fully utilize the function of. For example, teachers were not allowed to download apps they found to be interesting, useful or educational. There were three apps on the iPad’s the board had loaded and one of them was the Vatican app. (While I teach in the Catholic system in Ontario the Vatican app is not a child-friendly app suitable for primary students). It seemed like it was a project doomed to fail…. intentionally??
    The board also provided each teacher with a Chromebook. There was absolutely no training on the Chromebook, its features or how it can be used effectively with students. After the first six months at least half of the staff members had not taken the Chromebook out of the box. To fix this, they sent in a tech to train teachers, one-half day every three weeks, always in the afternoon. So, if your prep and planning occurred in the morning there was no training. The tech was also unable to stay after school hours.
    Finally, how do you run a tech program, with tech when your internet connection spent over 65% of the school year off line or unavailable because the bandwidth was taken up. Sadly, in my school most have just given up on exploring tech. So frustrating when I know the possibilities. Hopefully, I can help change this.
    Catherine

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