Category Archives: A. Unpacking assumptions

Technology is not just a digital textbook

In order to have effective digital technology in a Math and Science classroom, we must make sure that the technology is transformative. I have seen many technologies brought into classrooms which are a digitized version of textbooks and workbooks; these do not play to the strengths of technology nor are they transformative. When implementing technology, the question should always be asked: “Is this an improvement in learning from the status quo”. By asking this question, we should be making sure that we are not merely adopting technology for the sake of technology but rather adopting technology because it is improving learning.

Digital Technology in Math and Science classrooms need to have meaningful interaction with students. Meaningful interaction is the ability of the technology to adapt and change to the specific student. An example of this is Khan Academy practices which will increase or decrease in difficulty depending on student achievement, even going as far as recommending next steps or helpful tutorials.

Further, technology should allow students who are at a higher level, be able to play on their curiosity and advance at their own pace. Self-driven assignments tend to allow themselves to expand to meet student capabilities and so help advance students enrich their learning.

Is Technology Just Another Tool?

Some notes on:  What “counts” as good use of technology in math and science learning environments.

-Applications and devices that allow students to be actively engaged in their own learning

-educators who embrace change and want to try and implement technology into the classroom

-Used for sharing, communicating and displaying work so others can learn from one another

In a previous MET course, I came across the question, “Is technology just another tool to use in education?” This made me think long and hard. If it isn’t, then what is it? I realized that technology is so much more than just a tool. If it can transform the way we do things, is it then just a tool? For example, I will use the app called Padlet to demonstrate my thinking. Sometimes in class, I will ask my students a question and ask them to answer using this app. For one, it allows other shy students to express their thoughts, and to think and reflect on other’s posts at their own pace. Is Padlet a tool? Well, technically yes but it can transform education.

Ideally, such a learning environment would have each student own their own technological device or have one available at school.  With this however comes cost. At this point, most schools don’t have the funds for every student to have their own device let alone each student bring their own from home.  Some schools do have an iPad cart where classes must share, but this is not available all the time.

Learning through technology could address conceptual challenges. For instance, in last week’s video titled, “A Private Universe” Heather believed Earth’s rotation around the Sun was in a figure eight movement. Instead of relying on the teacher to explain what the real movement is, she could use technology and search it up herself in a matter of seconds. Technology is not just a tool, but has transformed our lives and ways of thinking.

Good use= Effective use?

  • What is a good use of digital technology in the math and science classroom? What would such a learning experience and environment look like? What would be some characteristics of what it is and what it isn’t? How might a learning experience with technology address a conceptual challenge, such as the one you researched in the last lesson?

A good use of digital technology in the math and science classroom is hard to define. But in my attempt to answer this question, I asked myself a few questions.  “What makes a digital technology a good addition to a math and science classroom? Should it be useful in helping teach content? Should it be good because it’s multifunctional and not just for math and science? or Is it the easiness of the technology the reason it is a good use of technology as its simplicity results in frequent usage? ” A good use is perhaps another way of saying a good addition to the classroom, and a good addition is perhaps so because it’s easy to use and can help students understand the math and science content easier. Regardless of why or how we classified a digital technology to be of good use, one commonality that can be seen is definitely on the frequency of use. If it’s good and useful, it’s used, and in my books, a good use if when something is used often enough that the frequencies offset the cost of the item.  A math and science classroom with the correct digital technology(s) shouldn’t require a lot of tools,  and definitely not a lot of unneeded or unused equipment. An effective learning environment that yields positive learning experiences should just have “the right amount” of technologies, so if one very effective tool can be found, just one if ten then so be it.  Either way, in my opinion, it should not be a space that has more technologies than students. Perhaps this is why now, more and more traditional classrooms are having their classrooms’ traditional technologies replaced by digital ones, as one digital technology can have functions that replace two or more devices, saving space.

With the right technology, conceptual challenges can be addressed as it would help students understand and see the same course materials from different perspectives and not just from their imagination. It can also better present materials that are hard to explain.  This can alter one’s learning experience greatly.

Seymour Papert and Constructivist Opportunities

Mathematics teaching has traditionally followed a linear form of instruction that involves an emphasis on skill drills and repetitive technique practice that requires students to progress through their learning path without adequate consideration to personalized and individualized learning styles. However, students require greater opportunities to engage with collaborative, constructivist learning approaches as they build a mathematical understanding through discussion, experimentation, and reflection. As Constructivism views knowledge as the outcome of experience mediated by one’s own prior knowledge and the experience of others, student learning benefits through the exploration of mathematical and scientific concepts by engaging with a variety of learning technologies, including programming languages.

Despite the benefits of enhanced student engagement and motivation, and the development of skills in creativity, problem solving and collaboration, technologies for learners (including programming) have been slow to gain entry into formal educational settings, as their integration necessitates major changes in school cultures. In some cases, it seems that technologies for learners have not been widely accepted in school instructional programs because they challenge the standards-based perspective on instructional change in schools.

By reflecting on the roles that technology plays in the current educational climate, we also need to reflect on past approaches to technology, and to consider how we’ve ultimately arrived where we are. In terms of mathematics and science learning, the work of Seymour Papert integrates technology across the curriculum, and Papert’s ideas and perspectives on educational technology can help move us toward an exciting and engaging future for our students. Seymour Papert’s influence extends throughout current pedagogical approaches to the integration of educational technology, constructivism, constructionism, and the teaching of science and mathematics, to name but a few areas of significance. Papert and Solomon’s Twenty Things to Do With a Computer (1971), raises key questions and issues around educational technology that are still current and overwhelmingly relevant, more than 40 years after the report had been written.

Papert and Solomon question the reasons as to why schools seemed to be “confined” in their approach to educational technology, particularly within mathematics and science, to uses that limit students to problem solving uses rather than opportunities to produce some form of action. Constructivist theory, when combined with technology integration, supports the enhancement of opportunities for students to engage in collaboration, higher order thinking and problem solving to enhance classroom learning environments.



Papert, Samuel and Solomon, Cynthia. (1971). Twenty Things to Do With a Computer. Massachusetts Institute of Technology: A.I. Laboratory.




Moving beyond substitution

Good use of digital technology in the math and science classroom begins with an educator who has a vision on how to engage their students towards meaningful inquiry. Meaningful use of technology moves away from teaching content in isolation and moves towards interdisciplinary problem-solving. Teachers who are passionate about motivating their students to think critically, collaborate effectively, and take risks in their learning are what is important in these STEM classrooms. When students are learning WHY something is important, in a hands-on way that explores real-world connections, students are more likely to care and engage in the learning engagements. Digital technology goes beyond the replacement of an ‘old’ way of doing something, but rather is innovative and modifies and redefines the original task. This is the SAMR model at heart.

Digital technology should be implemented with a clear scope and sequence but also be able to handle the teachable moments that present themselves along the way. Students need to develop their computational thinking in a fun way that challenges yet sustains interest.The benefits of using a variety of digital technology tools within the classroom is that there are many different options for students to personalize their learning. For example, when students struggle with conceptual challenges such as volume and capacity, students can watch Brainpop videos, use hands-on manipulatives such as bottles, in order to understand. They can explain their thinking with various iPad apps to document their thinking and learning, as well as be used as reflective samples for their portfolios. A successful science and math class is one that aligns itself with the inquiry cycle, where students are encouraged to tune into real world issues, find out more about these problems and begin making connections while attempting to find solutions, or take meaningful action. Overall, an effective STEM classroom is one where the teacher cannot be found at the front of the room, but rather can be seen transitioning between small groups of students who are busy tinkering, designing, and collaborating.

Implementing effective and useful digital technology in the classroom is possible when educators stop making excuses in their own abilities, such as saying ‘Technology is not my thing.’ As well, I believe it is equally important to break down gender inequality when it comes to digital technology. All teachers need to be supportive of all students learning to become digitally literate. I am fortunate to work in a school that believes in supporting teachers through professional development in digital technology, such as coding and robotics. When schools are creative the possibilities are truly endless, and digital technology does not have to always be about having the latest high-end technology, but it is necessary that all technology should be used effectively.

A Means to an End…

As with all learning, technology integration is at its best when designed to facilitate and enhance a constructivist teaching pedagogy. Learning technologies can allow for qualitatively unique capabilities and experiences for both students and educators. Whether used to facilitate creative expression, provide prompt feedback, increase collaboration, etc., technology can help develop abilities by expanding educational opportunity. Technology is not an end in itself. Many learning experiences are not enhanced by technology. Educators should critically reflect on whether technology adds to an experience and seek balance for students.

My division has recently engaged in a problem-based math iPad project, which I have been a part of for the last two years. It came to mind when considering practices that demonstrate good use from both a classroom and divisional level. The iPads were purposely organized to include apps and resources that facilitate problem-based instruction and learning. Apps such as Explain Everything, iMovie, Virtual Manipulatives were explored within a pedagogical context. Below are some more examples…

The primary focus was math but we displayed our learning through the technology tools we were exploring. All grade 4 – 9 teachers participated and helped facilitate 10 flexible half-day pedagogy and content focused PD sessions. Optional technology focused help sessions were also offered. Teachers preformed diagnostic assessments and have continually tracked the development of the students over the last several years to assess the benefits of the project. The pedological focus could have been a variety of topics but the overall design supported teachers of all abilities to integrate technology in a purposeful way.

What constitutes a good use of educational technology?

Good use of digital technology enhances student learning experiences. In an ideal environment, it would be available for all students. In the same way students use pencil and paper to complete assignments, digital technology provides a more flexible and diverse tool that enables students to express their ideas, personal theories, and explore their curiosities. Technology can also help to accommodate different learning needs by providing platforms for blended or online learning experiences. Digital technology is also useful for documenting student learning journeys in the form of digital portfolios. With digital technology, students can also engage in global learning experiences where they learn with the world and not just about it.

In order to make good use of digital technology in education, it needs to be coupled with sound pedagogy. Teachers who know the process of learning need to engage in a deliberate and thoughtful process when selecting technologies. The same way we plan, assess, and evaluate student learning, we need to be to have a process that assists with selecting tools that are purposeful and beneficial.

Integration of technology in today’s classroom is not a straightforward or simple process. Although issues of accessibility and availability have improved over the years it is not an equal playing field for all students due to issues like budgeting and internet availability. Another barrier is teacher education. Optimal use of technology takes awareness, time, and planning and teachers need to be supported with quality forms of professional development in order for this to happen.

Med ed and digital technology

When I initially reflected on these questions, I didn’t think there was much from my own experience that constituted “good” use of technology in the (medical) science classroom. Most of the technology used in our classroom (which is actually a lecture theatre) is powerpoint, LMS, vodcasts etc. Though this has increased accessibility to lecture material and allows students to learn in different environments and at their convenience, it’s still a didactic process and doesn’t fit with constructivist learning theories. But, medical education goes beyond the lecture theatre. Students and instructors are now using social media, high and low fidelity simulators, apps and games, as well as google docs to create collaborative pieces of work. When I consider these technologies, I feel that it is an effective tool in medical education. When I think about “good” use of digital technology, I always refer back to Chickering’s 7 principles. I can’t remember them all but some of these principles include student collaboration, active learning, and interactions between faculty and students. Social media, simulators, apps/games, as well as google docs all promote at least one of these seven principles.

When considering medical education, especially at the pre clerkship level the greatest challenge that I perceive is the large class sizes. At my institution, one class has approximately 160 students. To promote the use of chickering’s 7 principles in the context of digital technologies, it may require more small group work and facilitation of sessions by multiple faculty (as opposed to one lecturer). This model also presents a challenge as finding multiple faculty members is difficult considering that many teaching faculty in medicine are either part time or full time clinicians.

Deeper Learning

In elementary math and science classrooms, technology can support learning intentions and big ideas when it enhances student learning or helps to personalize each students needs. In math, technology can help facilitate different groups, as in the Math Daily 3 design. Students can use apps like Book Creator to document examples of different patterns. They can use apps like Show Me, an interactive whiteboard, to share evidence of their learning. Students can watch educational videos to help them understand a concept or idea. Students are able to converse with their teacher outside of school hours for formative assessment and support. Apps like Brain Pop Jr. that provide short, animated and engaging cartoons to present a curricular competency for our visual learners. I believe these examples count as a good use of technology to support math because they enhance the meaning of big ideas and are engaging to a variety of learning styles. Student’s benefit from virtual manipulative’s and programs that correct common errors, rather then having students make the same mistakes over and over on a worksheet. Many apps provide immediate feedback for the learner.

In science, technology can support learning in a number of ways. In our life cycle unit, students took pictures of their plants daily. Being able to zoom in on the roots brought the learning to life. Students made stop motion videos to show how their plant grew daily and for greater observation. Students enjoy using technology to research and watch movies to find answers to their inquiry questions. Students use technology to create iMovies to share what they learned with the class, adding voice-overs, images, videos, and text. These are examples of enhancing learning and providing opportunities for student voice.

When technology is not replacing worksheets or being used as a ‘filler’, but rather being used to integrate meaningful experiences, it changes the way students view learning. Students are engaged, taking ownership over their learning, and we as teachers are creating environments for deeper, authentic learning.


Value Added

I believe good use of technology is anything that adds value to the activity. In this way, the use of technology is just like any tool. I am a huge fan of Alice Keeler (Ed Tech guru) who consistently asks the question does technology make the experience better for the student? If the answer is no, then upgrade the activity. There are simply way too many teachers out there that assume tech in all cases adds value and it isn’t the case. Without strong pedagogy you have nothing.

The best example of this I can think of is my own school, which went 1-1 this year with chrome books. During the first two weeks, we had some trouble with the vendor and getting the books in the hands of the students. I had a teacher who was livid, claiming “he could not teach without technology.” My response was, “you shouldn’t be proud of admitting that.” What it says is the technology teaches for you and that is not what technology in the classroom is for. He went on say he doesn’t want to be one of those teachers who “just gives out boring worksheets in class”. I, of course, explained you don’t have to be and all the ways one can do engaging activities without a 1-1 classroom. However, when I did a review of the activities he was doing I had to ask the question in each case, how does this activity upgrade the learning experience? What I discovered was the activities he was doing were essentially online worksheets. The only value they added was they were paperless, yet it was assumed this was best practice.

To me technology needs to support inquiry and higher level thinking. It needs to provide options for students to express and create. It must go beyond simply automating tasks or mundane flashiness. Technology always has to be a tool in the hands of critical thinkers. The tool is necessary often but the one wielding the tool is always the most important.