Category Archives: A. Unpacking assumptions

Use What You Have!

A few jot notes on what I believe counts as good use of technology in math and science learning environments:

– applications that get students interested in math/science tasks

– technology used for assessments (Seesaw, Fresh Grade)

– technology used for classroom communication (Google Classroom- forms, etc.)

As I have mentioned a few times before, incorporating technology that is meaningful into the classroom is the only way to use it. Technology has to add something to the students learning. For instance, using an iPad or flip camera to document a nature walk for science and then later commenting on what they witnessed using a program such as Evernote is a great way to get students engaged in a task and find meaning with what they are doing.

One of the questions asked was “is this a vision or is it possible in real classrooms?” For schools that do not have access to a plethora of technology, even one classroom iPad can work wonders for such an activity. The teacher can have students rotate who films a particular lesson or item of interest and the students at their own time can add their own touches (voice notes, written or drawn notes) to the project to demonstrate their learning. This could be uploaded to a program like Seesaw so that their projects are filtered into their own accounts.

Other programs like 10 Frame Fill (application) allow children to practice recognizing additive 10 families (1 and 9, 4 and 6). In a kindergarten classroom I taught at the beginning of the year, I had paper 10 Frames that the students would use with tokens. Few children were interested in it but when I downloaded the 10 Frame Fill application, they were fighting over the iPad because they loved it so much.

One of the challenges when trying to incorporate technology is ensuring, as last week’s readings/videos demonstrated, that teachers do not assume a student already knows how to properly use technology. Making sure that students are appropriately using technology (and know how to use it!) is a vital lesson that lies in the hands of the educator.

Good use of digital technology in a math classroom

The following are what I personally consider to be worthy pursuits when it comes to incorporating technology in the classroom. In fact, below are some of the things I want to incorporate into my pedagogy over the next year or so.

Digital assessment in class, or at home.

One of the biggest benefits to technology that I am looking forward to developing is a way for me to assess students, and also for students to self-assess using technology. One of the things I want to be able to do is to have an automated test management system that will allow me to assign questions for students to complete as an exit slip at the end of a lesson. I find that if students, (especially the younger high school students), are set to a task that they have to complete by the end of class, it helps with classroom management as it gives students time to practice, and to explore their knowledge about what was taught that day. I personally also have an opportunity to determine student’s strengths and weaknesses. I know of different LMSes that could possibly allow this to be done (I want to look into setting up Moodle for the next school year), and I am looking for suggestions. It would be nice if someone with experience can comment on this.

Using videos to help students learn away from the classroom.

Some students cannot learn math in a traditional classroom effectively no matter what strategies a teacher tries. One can cite academia ad nauseum, or suggest strategies for different struggling students, but I still believe that at the end of the day, some students learn math better independently or by working with people 1 on 1 (as many students in my school do). Instead of forcing these kids to learn how to learn in a classroom, I think one of the things digital technology can do is to allow different avenues for learning. There are videos found online that would allow students to learn pretty much anything that I teach in my classes. I want to one day build a site, or find some way to host a central location where there could be videos given for every single topic I intend to teach. The goal being that this resource could be something I give to parents as an alternative to spending massive amounts of money on tutors. Building this site is a task that I may entrust to certain peer tutors in the future, if I am given an opportunity to work with one closely.

Using technology to give students alternative experiences with math

Despite the abundance of technology available today for teaching math, I still find that I have yet to “make a leap” in terms of how I deliver information. It feels like at the end of the day, students find it most effective when I stand in front of the class and work through different examples as a way of learning the concept, especially at the senior math level. After all, most of my senior students are result driven and want me to show them examples they wish to see on a test. With technology, I don’t think this needs to be. As time progresses, I want to find different activities that can be done on a device that could help kids learn a bit more independently, especially at the senior level. I have already explored using the different activities on Desmos ( for anyone that is interested), and I think similar types of learning activities would give students a chance to learn things a different way and maybe help avoid building up misconceptions along the way.

As a follow up to these types of learning activities, it would also be interesting to develop assessments that weren’t necessarily the traditional math test where students are given a set amount of time to solve a number of different questions. With technology, is it possible to assess students on their ability to complete a mathematical task as opposed to answering a question on a piece of paper to show their knowledge? I am interested in seeing what is out there.

I am open to suggestions on any of the things I have listed here. I look forward to your responses.

The Flex Glove Exoskeleton

For my money, the best use of technology in the S/M classroom brings students closer to actively building solutions to real world problems.

Here’s an example of the role tech plays in my combined Science/Math 9 class:  for a year end project, a group of students elected to make a robotic hand that can be controlled with a second “flex glove”.  The use-case would be to do toxic chemical handling or other dangerous work remotely.

They researched their topic online with school laptops, and collaboratively made planning documents with Google Sheets and Docs.  A bit of math for budgeting and sourcing their parts, and then it was time to break out the Arduino boards for a hardware development.  Borrowing heavily from the online coding community of knowledge, they constructed the circuit and flex glove.  They ran into some problems making the servo motors match the motion of the fingers—algebra to the rescue!  Adding multipliers to their code they calibrated the fingers to make it work.

Then comes the 3D printing, and on and on.  They are having a blast, learning a ton, and in true constructivist fashion, they have an artifact that they can share with their peers and the community at large.  I feel that the connection they make between their abstract coding and the very concrete movement of a hand are a perfect fit for that age and stage.  If there is a misconception about coding, degrees of rotation, or the like, it will be obvious in short order.  This tackling of the gap between formal and informal learning was the subject of my last post and is my latest favourite thing.

I don’t believe this level of tech is viable for all schools.  We happen to have external sponsorship for this project and without it, the state levels of funding would be inadequate.  Scaling up would require a major investment in infrastructure, tech support, and pro-D.  Given that state funding is 3/5 of what it was 15 years ago.  How do we collectively make this a priority?  What low-cost tech options exist in the meantime?

Technology for creative and critical thinking

When it comes to STEM in the classroom, technology is best used as an aid in critical and creative thinking, allowing students to have access to an additional modality from which to deepen their understandings. It should not be expected, however, that students arrive with a complete knowledge of how to use the technology, and be expected to use it every chance they can get. A good use of technology would first include guidance as to what to use, how to use it, and why a student should consider applying it to a particular activity, over a non-technology alternative.

As a creative avenue, technology should support exploration of concepts so they may gain new understanding through a relevant, personal experience. In a science experiment, for example, they can manipulate variables and see the effects without the need of extensive materials and preparation. Therefore, particular apps or simulations may allow for students to make intangible concepts tangible.

Something equally important to consider, however, when applying technology in STEM, is the student’s ability to recognize that an activity could benefit from the use of technology over non-technology practices. The teacher should help the student to think critically towards the purpose of the use of technology in the classroom. The use of a device for research or simulations are wonderful, but students should not become reliant. Good use of technology should provide them with an opportunity to challenge themselves further, removing barriers that would otherwise hinder their learning efforts.

What is a good use of digital technology in the math and science classroom?

I believe that the good use of digital technologies would help students learn science and math in more engaging and challenging ways.  For example, interactive virtual simulations and augmented reality would help students experiment and understand scientific concepts more inquisitively, in simpler and more engaging ways. Imagine that students can run chemical reactions or examine chemicals properties in the virtual environment. That would let them explore their findings further and apply the findings in real life settings to confirm the acquired knowledge.  This will also allow students to correct their privately held views or misconceptions acquired during science and math classes.


Pedagogy and Technology

Use of technology in any classroom (not just science) should begin with teacher pedagogy first and technology second.  There are many efficiencies that technology affords us and they should be embraced.  One such efficiency I utilize on a daily basis is the Google Apps for Education; this suite of applications includes Google Classroom, Google Drive, Docs, and Sheets among others.  These tools have allowed students and educators the ability to collaborate in a virtual environment much easier.  Students who are absent because of illness or vacation are able to keep up to date and group work is much more efficient as all students have access to all documents regardless of where they are.  I, as an educator, am able to keep tabs on student progress at my convenience and can provide feedback instantly.  I have the privilege to be teaching at a school that requires students to bring their own device – the recommended device being a ChromeBook.

In the science classroom, teachers can utilize technology such as simulations to aid in student learning.  Using a gravity simulator can allow students to adjust different parameters and observe how it affects different objects or motion.  From our example last week, using simulations can allow students to see how direct and indirect sunlight impact our seasons, or how the position of the moon creates different phases.  When students are able to get hands on experience and see the results of their actions (such as moving the sun around, or changing the tilt of the earth), then I think they will have deeper learning.


Digital Literacy

Good use of technology in the math and science classroom should be interdisciplinary, interactive and meaningful. The digital tools we have at our disposal allow for the melding and weaving of content and competencies together using visual, textual and auditory creation and delivery tools. Moreover, if students can draw relationships between science and math we are moving much closer to an authentic learning experience that mimics the complex intermingling of disciplines we encounter in our daily lives.  

Interactivity goes hand in hand with technology, as an example just last week I 3D printed a slice of Mars where the Spirit rover landed and had the students calculate the area and perimeter of the rover’s path.  The ability technology gives us to make the virtual physical or provide students with tools to manipulate a digital space to solve complex problems and be creative is a marvel.  Finally technology can make learning meaningful, you can see when you apply technology as a learning tool students are engaged and motivated to learn.  The often will take what you have taught them and continue to pursue it outside of the lesson which for me is when I feel the learning has been impactful.

Technology allows a conceptual challenge like place value and decimals, which is something that all elementary students struggle with, to become a transformative learning event.  You can wire up a LED to a raspberry Pi or Microbit, apply a code in Python or Java Script and have the students play around with decimal value to make the LED blink faster or slower. I struggled with place value when teaching using Math Makes Sense but with technology digital meets physical, math meets computer science, and learning becomes authentic and permanent.  Digital technology is nothing without digital literacy, and I often find that a shiny new ipad or macbook computer is expected to be a silver saviour for students lack of interest in outdated teaching methods.  I feel, while important, our focus for Professional Development (at least in my District) seems to still lie with numeracy and literacy.  There are few opportunities for teachers to learn how to incorporate technology into their classrooms, probably because there is no one with the skills to organize that movement.  I hope one day it will be a priority as I feel there is so much more we can offer our students in this new realm.

Tech in the Classroom

Good use of digital technology in math & science classrooms is when its inclusion brings another element. This could be facilitating the sharing of ideas and experiences with students/speakers on the other side of the world, watching in real-time the repair of the ISS, or allowing students to manipulate objects that would normally be out of reach or impossible to access. It allows for more inclusive education (eg. students with needs not met with traditional paper/pen) and can help meet the needs of all learners, & foster creative & out-of-the-box thinking. Digital technology allows students to address some of the conceptual challenges they may have.

Good use of technology is not the substitution of technology for worksheets. Technology is also not a substitute for poor teaching. It is how we can make learning more effective.

This strong vision of digital technology is possible in Canadian classrooms. Most schools are fortunate to have access to Internet & devices such as iPads & desktop computers. Many students have their own devices. 1:1 may be challenging, at least having technology, even shared, allows for possibility. What makes it a challenge is lack of/unequal distribution of resources, and infrastructure (speed) that districts provide. Encouraging teachers to take risks, Pro-D, & mentoring help to educate teachers. Being creative with budgets (do we need more photocopying/textbooks?), applying for grants & discussing with administration the benefits to students’ may lead to acquiring tech for students.

Keeping the why & what is best for our students at the forefront when implementing technology in our classrooms will help keep us on the right path.

Technology Intergration

I believe that good use of digital technology in math and science is the same as in any subject. Activities must be authentic, develop new learning, and not be a replica of a task that could be done in the classroom without it. When I think of positive and rich technology learning tasks I think of virtual fieldtrips, or using virtual reality to see inside a cell and explore it. To me successfully integration is not reading an article online and answering questions, or watching a video about resources when you could be outside exploring your own community. If an iPad becomes a device to just read information then it becomes a very expensive textbook and does not support an inquiry or constructivist based approach to learning.
For students to build their conceptual understanding Schneps (1989) in his video talks about the need for students to touch and manipulate it. Heather was struggling with understanding direct and indirect light. As this is a more abstract concept that is difficult to show her misconception continued. I believe here is an area when bringing technology into your classroom is an excellent example of how create an hands on lesson to learn about seasons and indirect light – . From here student could capture their learning and create a digital story and then share it. I don’t believe this is a vision, while ensuring that you have access to iPad’s and some thermometers are needed in this lesson, many schools are becoming much more integrated. As with any change in our classrooms, a desire must be had and then a passionate few have the ability to influence the greater cohort and bring about the change.

Schneps, Matthew. A Private Universe: Misconceptions That Block Learning. Massachusetts, USA: Annenberg Media, 1989. video.

What is good use of technology in a math or science class?

I think good use of digital technology involves students creating something that they’re proud of.  They might be creating something to demonstrate their understanding of a concept, or they might be using their time to master the digital technology itself.  For example, in the last lesson’s video, we watched Heather grab a physical model of our solar system as she struggled to understand the phases of the moon.  Students can create their own models using technology and see what happens as the moon orbits around the earth.

Sometimes, the concepts being mastered aren’t ones that were even a part of the math and science classrooms of 20 years ago.  Scratch ( has been a valuable tool in introducing my Grade 4 students to the ideas in computer science.  They can experiment first-hand with the ideas of if/then statements, loops, and other coding concepts that would be too difficult if they had to worry about where they missed a semi-colon.  (Argh!  The semi-colon!  How many hours have I wasted as a coder myself, looking for that elusive semi-colon!)  The building-block style of construction is age-appropriate, while at the same time allowing students to create incredibly elaborate and complex games.  The logic they learn while coding has applications in other academic areas as well.  One of the main challenges I have had is that, in an unstructured lunch time coding “club”, my students are mostly boys.  I haven’t had a lot of success, just yet, in getting girls to code unless they “have to” in a structured class environment.  I would love to hear how other teachers out there have gotten girls hooked!