Correlating Primary vs. Secondary Thoughts on Classroom Tech Use

My Primary Interviewee is in her 33rd year of teaching. She has taught a variety of grades throughout her career including kindergarten up to high school grades in an alternate school setting. Currently she is teaching grade 3 at a primary (K-3) school in BC. The interview was conducted at her school on Tuesday, January 17 at 3:00pm.

My Secondary Interviewee is in his 8th year of teaching. He has taught a variety of secondary courses in the math and science area and is currently teaching Calculus, Pre-Calculus 12, Physics 11, and Pre-Calculus 11 this semester in a secondary (10-12) school in BC. The interview was conducted at his home on Tuesday, January 17 at 8:00pm.

The interviewees both had some recurring themes throughout our conversations such as time, appropriate use of technology, and the frustration of technology failure. Change is occurring in the math classroom, in their opinions, and it may not be what you think:

In math I’m not even sure if it’s so much technology, math has just completely changed from when I started teaching. When I started teaching it was worksheets, you delivered the lesson, it was all teacher talk, then you worked on the math pages and you sent home what wasn’t done…And now I see us using all sorts of different manipulatives, different ways…getting kids really involved in their learning. I think math has really, really changed…I think it [technology] has transformed learning a lot because kids who didn’t learn by the teacher direction, do the homework, kids who couldn’t learn that way are being given the opportunity to learn in a way that is working for them. And that’s where I see technology and just even the whole way we have changed the way we teach has definitely made a difference.” (Primary Interviewee)

I think in certain places you could implement technology and it could increase their learning if people knew what they were doing and knew how to use it was appropriate for the topic but just throwing technology in there isn’t going to do anything. I think since we’ve gone away…since we’ve put less technology in the math classrooms the kids are learning more than when they had more technology to use. Because they have to rely on understanding how to actually do it they can’t rely on just knowing where to put the numbers into the technology and having it do it for them. So I think they’re actually having that struggle and figuring it out on their own and not relying on some piece of technology to help them or be able to do it is actually helping them more fully understand the topics that we do.” (Secondary Interviewee)

How do we move forward, I wonder? Both interviewees admitted failure with technology when the reliance is too high and cited the need for a backup plan. “And sometimes I don’t [have a backup plan] and then it’s hard…you really have to change your whole lesson” (Primary Interviewee). How do we encourage educators to persevere when failure utilizing technology in the classroom can be frequent? “The computer carts are almost useless. To get enough bandwidth for the kids to do anything is almost impossible.” (Secondary Interviewee).

Lack of infrastructure, hardware, and funds seem to be general concerns that apply to many. The time it can take to learn these new innovations and implement them is not always rewarding right away or in some cases at all. Education, or possibly just our current public school systems, seems unable to keep up with the current pace of technology innovations. Sometimes it seems to me that the whole system needs to change,  along with the way we teach. The question of how we can effectively navigate these ever-changing technology waters as educators while maintaining life balance, providing engaging learning opportunities, and properly preparing our students for the world, still engages me even as I near completion of this program.  

4 comments

  1. Hi Allison,

    I found the second interviewee’s comments particularly interesting, specifically the dichotomy between technology use in math and science. The interviewee mentions the departure in math away from technology and having students instead try to understand concepts without putting numbers in some tech. Several of the senior math teachers at my school are using this strategy as well, specifically not allowing students to use calculators/computers to do the math. Thus, there is a greater emphasis on thought process and showing steps in math instead of using technology to come up with an answer. In contrast, the science department here uses technology much more in our lessons with the reverse process where we hope to instill understanding by using the technology. Perhaps the interviewee’s comments on ‘certain places’ technology working would address this difference?

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Allison,

    I appreciate your participation in and perspective from two separate interviews. A primary educator’s use and purposes of technology will differ significantly from that of a secondary math or science teacher and I look forward to observing other perspectives and distinction as I move through others’ interviews.

    The primary educator’s insight into how methods of teaching and learning have evolved over the past three decades is valuable in directing present day educators in their pursuit of meaningful educational technology. Recognizing that the ever-changing technology-based environment that we live in demands effort on the part of the educator to implement appropriate technology into the environment that we learn in. Individual students learn best in individual ways and technology may be the best way for some, or even many, students.

    The secondary educator’s caution of the use of technology in developing students’ full understanding of concepts is one that I support, but perhaps should be connected to the primary educator’s comment that different ways of learning are valuable in providing students with many pathways to successful learning. There is a place for demonstrating learning without technology for cognitive understanding, but there is also a place for incorporating technology for practical understanding, particularly in the math and sciences. Careful planning and implementation by the educator is key in facilitating both types of learning and understanding {as long as the technology works! ;)}

  3. Hi Everyone,
    When I was reading Allison’s post and the responses I started wondering about the purpose of the lesson and why we use technology or not. First of all, if I am introducing a new concept my primary goal is to have students understand WHY we are doing something, how it works and why we can (if appropriate apply a formula to it).
    In the video case of the physics teacher, he made a comment about how the technology helps the students see the results of actions and reactions etc, as they change parameters in a simulation. If the lesson is about the students noticing that the angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection does it really matter for this particular lesson if the student can use a protractor or not? Is the lesson measuring with protractors or learning about the angles of incidence and reflection?
    This separation of lesson purpose is very personal to me as my youngest daughter CAN NOT do math computation in her head. She is in third-year university and still uses her fingers to count. By the time she was in grade six she had a math phobia. She was never allowed to use a calculator so even if she understood a concept she never got the answer right because her computation was wrong. Plain and simple she hated math, she thought math hated her and if she could have quit math in grade six she would have. Finally at the beginning of grade seven I met with the teacher and said “if you are teaching computation and the skill is computation great no calculator, she will try her best and even if she fails no biggie, but if the concept is something else let her use the calculator so we can see if she understands what is going on or not”. The grade seven teacher agreed. Yes, LeeAnn barely passed the computation skills but she aced every other math concept. She understands it, can explain it and even helped other kids understand it. The thing holding her up was computation. Previously, because she saw every answer marked wrong she thought she didn’t understand anything in Math.
    We still play math games when we are sitting around, or usually if we are driving somewhere (her university is four hours away from home), we do mental math and the whole family gets involved (until she is too frustrated 🙂 Is her mental math improving, very very slowly. Does she understand math, Yup! She has passed three university stats courses with A’s.
    I guess I bring this up as food for thought, what is the intention of our lesson? What is the technology supposed to be aiding?
    Catherine

  4. HI Allison,
    I like how you were “thinking out loud” as your analysis proceeded; we got a window into your thoughts about the two different teachers with a 25 year difference in teaching experience. Catherine’s example with her daughter is an interesting one for us to consider as math and science teachers. It brings me back to your analysis of the appropriate use of technology in this interview with the elementary teachers and the elementary example of slowmation in the video case in preservice teacher education. What is the deep purpose of the digital technology?
    Thank you for helping us to raise new questions from your generative interview, Samia

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