Task 5 – We’re Still More Important Than Computers

Posted by Fintan on May 5, 2016

I agree with Wolfram that math students shouldn’t be spending most of their time doing calculations instead of tackling more realistic problems. It goes back to what Willingham said in a previous article about developing automaticity with certain math in order to free up the mind to focus on more challenging problems. That’s provided that there is a relational understanding of the math that is being done automatically. Calculators and computers give this automaticity. With this automaticity, the teacher can introduce some real-world math problems that are not the perfectly packaged math problems that students are so used to seeing. However, we need to be careful that we don’t try to use the technology itself as something to engage the students. I remember as a student when I first saw a SMART Board at school and being amazed by it. However, after a few times seeing it, the novelty wore off. Other than now having a SMART board in the classroom, the actual class was no different. With young people using some kind of technology for an average of 7.5 hours a day, having more of it in a classroom isn’t going to necessarily make the class better. Furthermore, replacing hand calculations with computers may only be of benefit to students who already understand the math behind the calculations. For students that struggle with math, having the calculations written down step-by-step may be more helpful for their understanding. I’m in favour of the use of computers as long as the students’ have a solid understanding behind the calculations.

For students that move onto more challenging problems that computers can help with calculating, they will still need time for working things out in their head. As math teachers, we want to teach students math skills that can help them to problem solve, something that cannot be done by a computer. We therefore, should not let the technology come to dominate the lesson. Students can play around with something like Desmos and still not know what they have achieved with the software if it has not been used cleverly. The teacher needs to make sure that the students realize that they need to put thought behind what they’re doing on the computer. Students might see a computer lesson as a break from math. I therefore think it’s best that teachers make wise use of computers in math class rather than making them a regular part of the subject. I also think that the software used needs to be carefully chosen. Some software is far better than others. Personally, I wouldn’t use WolframAlpha in the classroom. I don’t think it’s very student friendly as opposed to something like Desmos.

1 Comment

  1. Ray
    11 May 2016

    Fintan, I agree that teachers should make wise use of technology in the classroom and that any software needs to be chosen carefully.

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