Monday, October 12, 2009

Math Teachers

Why are secondary math teachers so reluctant to try Web 2.0 tools?

First I think this results from the perception that Math is qualitatively different from other subjects. In some ways learning math has more in common with the skills development aspects of PE or some of the practical arts and trades-based classes than with other content area courses. Web 2.0 tools which enhance learning through creative self-expression, presenting to a real audience, or sharing ideas may seem to have no place in math class. To the skeptical teacher these can seem like add-ons that take valuable time away from instruction and guided practice rather than having the power to enhance math learning in a completely new way.

Also, good website can be hard to find (to paraphrase an old song). Online games that reinforce skills or websites that provide instruction often don't match the content a teacher wants students to practise or the steps by which a skill has been taught in class. The questions may not be sufficiently varied or at the right level. Finally, because math teachers have not traditionally made a lot of use of computers with students in their classrooms, they may have limited access which is not particularly conducive to trying new initiatives.

Finding a starting Web 2.0 tool for secondary math teachers involves leading them to a comfortable starting point.

(To scroll down again, click anywhere on the right.)


Start too far along the continuum of tool or use or comfort level, and math teachers (or beginners from other departments) feel overwhelmed. It all seems just a little too "wild and wooly." It's important to remember that no tool feels intuitive or user-friendly to the person who feels out of his/her depth. The potential for increasing student achievement or engaging in interesting professional growth must far exceed the barriers. There can seem to be just too many alligators lurking beneath the surface of the swamp to justify jumping in.

[Image adapted from: I.H.S. Consulting Group @]

I'm beginning a new collaboration with a young woman tackling the new Math 8 curriculum here in BC. She is conscientiously trying to incorporate new constructivist approaches as directed by the district helping teacher, to meet her school's goal of increasing literacy, and to collaborate with her department by organising in school-wide math events. We had talked about the new program and some possible starting points, but when I appeared at her door and starting throwing ideas around, I could see her wilt under the weight of what seemed yet another add-on that was going to compound her needs rather than help her meet the ones she already had.

We started looking at what she felt to be a set of unique problems associated with math teaching, but it turned out that she didn't need better 'math tools' as such. After about an hour of chatting back and forth we settled on three that are by now pretty familiar to people in this course: PowerPoint, ToonDoo, and Voicethread. She'll be able to use them to deliver instruction as well as give them to students to use. These tools will also help her address the problem-solving and literacy building initiatives by involving students in using words to processes, giving each other feedback about solutions, incorporating some creative reinforcement of learning, and publishing their work for others to see. Students who learn these in math will also be able to use them in other courses and may for once be able to say that they learned something in math that helped them in their real lives.

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