Research tells us that for our math brain to grow, teachers and students need to develop intuition for math and make visual connections. Yet many math teachers learned traditional math and got teaching credentials years ago, when the only technology available was a scientific calculator, and the emphasis was on math as a performance subject, not a learning subject.
My district recently rolled out a 1:1 iPad program and provided all students and teachers with basic skills training. Now it’s time to turn our attention to the ISTE Standards for Educators and focus on being collaborators and facilitators when it comes to technology use. For many this will require a shift in thinking so that we can design our learning environments (ISTE Educator Standard #5) around an open set of ideas that we can play with and explore.
This is especially important in mathematics classes where traditional pencil and paper still rule (no pun intended).
Several years ago, our department began using an online math program, and embedded within the ebook were references to Desmos, a free online graphing calculator. This got our department thinking that perhaps this tool would offer a way for students to meaningfully use technology, visualize math and make content connections to big ideas, as encouraged by the ISTE Standards for Students.
This year, our math department was awarded an NCTM In-Service Training Grant to help us learn more about using the online graphing calculator to help students visualize their work and revise their mathematical thinking. Through our training, we learned that the online graphing calculator has a set of activities, specifically designed to engage students in the process of mathematical inquiry.
The activities are a step up from the traditional graphing calculator as each inquiry-based activity requires students to create a series of objects that encourage mathematical conversation and promote computational thinking (ISTE Student Standard #5). Because the activities are open-ended, students have the opportunity to be right, and wrong, in interesting ways, further promoting the mathematical practice of justifying responses and critiquing the reasoning of others. Use of the open-ended, digital platform provides multiple entry points, helps students build on prior knowledge and empowers student learning (ISTE Student Standard #1).