Task 5 – Things aren’t as simple as they might seem

Posted by Ray on May 5, 2016

I was looking forward to hearing Conrad Wolfram’s ideas on the use of Technology in the classroom but was not convinced by his arguments. For example, he made the point that outside of education, people use computers for maths. Whilst that is likely to be true for scientists and mathematicians, I don’t think it’s true for anyone who has ever struggled at maths. Technology is fabulous for Mathematical Inquiry but requires sound problem solving skills and often also needs programming ability. Students with low attainment in maths are unlikely to have these skills because maths introduces the concepts of getting stuck, reviewing results and exploring ideas of how to solve a problem*. I agree with Conrad’s point that technology can do a lot of the repetitive maths that is sometimes needed to solve a problem and have myself used Excel for that.  For me, technology that supports the solving of mathematical problems should be introduced when a student has a sound grasp of a topic and would benefit from using technology to investigate further. I have observed the use of technology in both ICT and maths lessons and have seen that the lower ability students seem to learn less than from a whiteboard led lesson. They may be able to use sliders to change the appearance of objects or graphs but often seem to be playing without learning and the teachers seem to have less control of the learning in the classroom.

Daniel Willingham makes the point that student engagement is more important than the medium that is used for the teaching. The complexity and content of a lesson needs to be appropriate for each of the students but technology can support learning when it is used properly. I have seen the great use of a camera and projector to allow the whole class to see manipulatives being moved around to explain division. However, using the camera and projector to show the handwritten approach to an exam question did not work well because the paper was mostly obscured by the hand doing the writing. Daniel makes the valid point that we should be thinking about what we want to teach and then deciding if technology can support us in doing that. He also debunks the myth that young people are great at multi-tasking and supports putting across the message that focusing on a single task is the most effective way to work ( accepting that background music appears to be beneficial for some ).

As a teacher, I’ll want to use technology such as Geogebra and Desmos to demonstrate and explain principles to my students and will encourage them to explore my materials, as well as Khan Academy and others, outside of the classroom. As an inexperienced teacher, I’ll be wary of students using computers during lessons because I’ve seen the lack of control that can arise when doing that. My background is in technology and so it’s been quite a journey for me to realise that we need to be willing to embrace technology but also exercise caution in how we use it as a teacher.

* These concepts are discussed in detail in the book Thinking Mathematically by Mason, L. Burton and K. Stacey


  1. Fintan Donnellan
    9 May 2016


  2. Fintan Donnellan
    9 May 2016

    I completely agree Ray. Most of the students we’ve seen in St. Leonard’s and Hastings are not helped at all by just seeing the math on a SMART board. As much as I like Desmos and GeoGebra, it would be ridiculous to expect students at their level who don’t have basic math skills to be able to do something with these kinds of basic software. Computer work is something that I’d only be comfortable introducing to students with higher ability.

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