It’s an Obsession
If the presence of technology in a classroom enhances learning and improves all students’ interaction with the subject then it is a good thing, and that piece of technology should be promoted. But if technology takes away the essence of learning per se, then I bet to differ. A parent sends her child to school to learn and develop into an independent thinking human being, but not to be spoon fed. So, any technology that serves the student with ready solved solutions to mathematical problems, only requiring the student’s input skills, should be glanced at with a pinch of salt. One thing we have to bear in mind is that for someone to come up with a computer programme that works wonders, such that it solves numerous complex mathematical problems for you, with all its workings shown step by step, that person must have once sat in a classroom where he was taught mathematics by a teacher, who used the same teaching methods our forefathers developed many centuries ago. Therefore, if we allow technology that solves problems for our students and do almost everything for them into our classes, then surely what we are doing is tantamount to denying them the chance to learn, experience and understand the core concepts of mathematic. As Dan Meyer once said, mathematics is about doing, experiencing and living it, but not simply plugging in questions and, voila!
If we allow this spoon fed type of learning to take base then who will be able to develop future technologies, since the resulting graduates will be found wanting? Therefore, as much as we need technology in our classrooms, there must be proper research and scrutiny before introducing it to our students, in order to avoid the afore-mentioned risks.
Daniel Willingham has mentioned that most young ones have more room in working memory capacity than most adults which allows them to manipulate and solve more complex problems. With all that ability therefore, and with proper methods of mathematics teaching, as proposed by Richard Skemp in Relational Understanding, students could learn and understand mathematics well enough to become programmers and engineers one day, producing suitable classroom technologies. I think it would be a travesty to direct our students to the Wolfram mathematics solving programmes as it would devalue learning.
Don’t get me wrong, I think some of Conrad Wolfram’s programmes are brilliant and necessary but what doesn’t sit well with me is where he proposes that problem solving programmes should be embedded in the our classrooms and in the curriculum. For example, in medical world they may soon have technologies that could diagnose most human health problems. But still I would expect their medical students to learn medicine the proper way and not just learn how to input data in the technology to retrieve a diagnosis. They still need to know the workings of the human body before they can treat a patient. This is tantamount to mathematics and these problem solving technologies. Yes, technology is necessary in the classroom but only if it enhances the learning of the student and not otherwise.
To conclude, teachers in the west should always take a leaf from our Asian counterparts, like Japan, Singapore and Shanghai, where mathematics is still taught the old way, using the chalk boards and some old fashioned equipment, but still students there do far much better than in the west. Surprisingly, these Asian countries are not poor at all, and they manufacture most of these technological equipment we are eager to use down here. It seems we have become so obsessed with technology that we are forgetting the essence of learning.