Monday, November 14, 2016

Math: An Overlooked Subject in Non-Tablet 1:1 Programs

Education is changing and the way students learn math will never be the same. Technology in the classroom like the iPad allows students to organize and share their work faster than ever before. In Mr. Best’s Calculus class, these tools accelerate an already accelerated class. Students use Notability, Explain Everything and Desmos to explore topics in a deeper, more meaningful way.
Unfortunately math is often an overlooked subject area in most traditional non-tablet 1:1 programs. Yet starting in kindergarten, every student through their senior year of high school spends a good portion of their day in math class. Students can't do much of their work in math classes with technology when they are limited to a traditional keyboard and screen.
In most traditional 1:1 Chromebook or laptop programs I've seen, students have their devices closed during math class and use paper and pencil, because math requires handwriting. (For that matter, a lot of school subjects require handwriting.) Sure, you could type up all numbers and variables in the lines of your equations, change fonts to superscript for each exponent, figure out the special keystrokes for math symbols to insert, and come up with other workarounds,  but have you ever seen anyone take the time to do that?! It would be so cumbersome. And if you think writing in digital ink on a laptop is comparable, you likely haven’t tried for an extended period of time. Occasionally while touring traditional 1:1 programs with keyboards, I’ve seen math students who are using their device as an expensive calculator or have opened up an online textbook. Some teachers in these situations do try to harness the limited technology available for math by incorporating video instruction, YouTube tutorials, Kahn Academy content, and assessment tools.  
Because of the limitations of the device, students in traditional 1:1 programs are limited to consuming content in math rather than interacting and creating it. There is so much power in handwritten notes, sketches, and annotations. The availability and power of digital ink sets 1:1 tablet implementations on a level above that of traditional devices. Since so much of school is handwriting, the ability to use digital ink for note taking and math homework allows students to harness the power of technology for all aspects of their learning. Not only can they access content for learning, they can create it.

In Minnetonka math classrooms, students using Notability write in digital ink, which allows them to write, resize, relocate, change colors, copy, paste, manipulate, pinch, zoom, drag, interact and more with their own handwritten equations and notes. Research has shown that typed up notes aren’t as memorable or helpful and can even be detrimental to learning. The ability to create handwritten notes and so much more on a tablet should be a key factor for consideration not only in math but all subject areas. Math class can be paperless with 1:1 tablets. Tablets allow students to not only create handwritten notes with technology, but redefine what traditional note taking even is compared with paper and pencil in a traditional classroom or traditional keyboard 1:1 environment.
In addition to digital note taking and annotations, students frequently use the camera for both photos and videos which are added to their notes. They quickly snap a picture of the teacher’s example, embed it right within their notes, and then add their own writing and annotations on top of that image. Students in our math classes use Explain Everything to record screencasts to describe their thinking and processing. They can share these videos with one another to teach and reinforce concepts to classmates and provide their teachers with a deeper understanding of what they have learned. Further, visualization and manipulation of objects and graphs are routine in math classes thanks to the power of 1:1 tablets, enhancing students’ understanding of concepts. In the iPads in High School Calculus video, you can see Minnetonka students doing all of these things, including using Desmos for exploring patterns in graphs.

I have written in the past about the need to consider the overall ROI, return on investment, of a device for the life of the device. In the long run, we have found that an iPad provides a bigger bang for the buck than a laptop or Chromebook ($0.38/day). In conversations about device choice, it’s important to reflect on the value you place on all subjects. Consider if and how students could even use the tool you have in mind in subjects like math, art, music, physical education, science, world language, and more. Too often educators and decision makers forget to think this through and elevate the value of a traditional keyboarding device over the value of a tool that can be truly used to enhance learning across all subject areas.

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