One size fits all?

When thinking about what constitutes ‘good’ use of technology in the math/science classroom, I tend to think of it in two categories: teacher facing and student facing.

Good teacher facing tech is anything that helps free the teacher from time consuming tasks that pull them away from the student: organizing paper, photocopying, marking, managing resources.  When burdened with these types of tasks, teachers spend less time one on one with their students.

Good student facing tech provides opportunities for learning to be more accessible, more equitable, easier to share/collaborate, and more meaningful to students.  This could be through adding breadth, depth (or both) or by providing opportunities for multimodal learning or student expression.

If we were to walk into class where tech is effectively integrating into the learning environment, here are some things we would notice:

  1. The tech would be enhancing what the students are doing.  It wouldn’t just be a replacement for a paper activity or a ‘pictures under glass‘ version of an experiment.  Rather, the tech would allow for some new dimension to student inquiry that was previously not possible.
  2. The tech would be contextualized within the culture of the classroom and community, as well as provide opportunities to take the learning beyond a singular content area (math, science, etc.).
  3. The tech would put student learning and participation at the center of the experience.  There would be opportunity for customization, appropriation, and collaboration.

Reflecting on Heather’s misconceptions from the first lesson, I can see good student facing tech being very effective at helping her (and her classmates) understanding concepts like seasonal variance and phases of the moon.  The teacher employed the tech they had access to at the time (the mechanical solar system model), but I imagine that an interactive digital model could be significantly more powerful.  For example, the sun would actually be emitting light, so the models would be illuminated allowing for students to see the phases of the moon clearly.  They would also be able to test their own (mis)conceptions, like the irregular orbits Heather drew, the clouds causing the phases of the moon, etc. – the act of which might help jostle those long-held views from their entrenched positions.

The idea of ‘good’ tech use is so subjective and dependant on many variables.  Is it possible in real classrooms?  Absolutely.  What makes it a challenge to implement?  Teachers and school admin bear such a important responsibility to understand the cultural context of their learners, to select tech that supports their learning and promotes their growth.  Teachers, themselves, must be experts not only in their content areas and pedagogy, but also in the technology and how it relates to the learning of their students.  To achieve truly effective tech integration into science and math classrooms, design thinking must be de rigueur from the top down (government to districts, districts to admin) and bottom up (student/parent to teacher, teacher to admin).

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