I read with interest two related blog posts on teaching mathematics with computers. The first was a response post by @ddmeyer to an initial blog by @knowak on an experimental tablet program she is part of.

Both posts expressed frustration at technological issues creating barriers to learning, and gave an overall sense that perhaps the mathematics classroom was not the right place for 1-1 device instruction. After all, there is still no completely painless way to communicate or post pencil and paper working online. Dan Meyer did make the point that we should not modify our math teaching to fit the “wonderful” technology tool we have at hand. I definitely agree with that.

I do feel, though, that we can definitely make math teaching and learning better, with student access to such devices. Students can use tools such as Geogebra with its sliders, and screen casting software to explore patterns, communicate their conjectures, either orally or written, and explain why the rules work.

If you don’t have time to do a full exploration of a new concept, allocate each student a different section of data to work with, and collate the results in a Google spreadsheet, and everyone can view the patterns from there. Similarly students can take notes collaboratively on a Google document. I used this strategy for terminology at the start of a recent probability unit.

Computers allow students to write about mathematics more easily: I often give students assignments where they have to make connections between the different areas of math we have been learning, or between disciplines. Students should be explaining how mathematical rules work, why they work and when we can apply them.

I also use computers for students to complete formative quizzes, so I can quickly see where they are at. Socrative, Quia, and Tenmarks are all great sites which send individual student information to the teacher in a clear “at a glance” format.

Lastly, I have to say, that we must surely be on the cusp of a huge turning point in teaching and learning. All the ideas and concepts we teach, can be learned by students online, completely independent of us. The only issue is making sure the source and information are valid. Perhaps we can make our lessons much richer by dealing with mundane concepts out of class time, and focus the class time on collaborative problem solving and exploration.

So, in summary,

- if you want to get formative feedback on your students,
- if you want students to explore patterns,
- if you want students to learn collaboratively,
- if you want your students to write about what they are learning, make connections, and justify patterns,
- if you want your students to pursue their curiosity and interest by learning new ideas independently,

then I recommend that computers be an integral tool in your classroom.