Category Archives: Learning Technology Plan

The Only Math App You Need

When I received my first iPad, I, like many, engaged in the process of rapid app downloading. After attending a workshop or seminar around using iPads, I would hastily download any and all apps recommended by the presenter. And like most that go through this process, I found that I used few (if any) of those apps taking up space on the device.

Sure, we’ve curated a modest list of recommended “educational productivity and creativity apps” for mathematics in St. Vrain, and we’ve purposefully stayed away from any apps that push content to students or resemble any type of rote practice or digital worksheet. So if apps aren’t the way to go, how can these learning devices be used productively in the teaching and learning of mathematics?

Looking at the Standards for Mathematical Practice, these three stand out with respect to communication of mathematical ideas:

  • MP1: Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
  • MP3: Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
  • MP6: Attend to precision.

No doubt, if we want to assess students’ understanding of mathematics, we must focus on their mathematical communication and transparency in their thinking and processing; yet one key barrier appears to exist, repeated by most teachers: “How can I possibly meet with every student one-on-one to do this regularly?”

This is where technology can facilitate capturing these moments and providing meaningful data to teachers beyond paper and pencil means. As part of our District-provided apps, Explain Everything is pushed out to all iPads for students and teachers. Forget all of the other math apps you wish your students could access, as this one allows you to hear and see what they are thinking as they work out a solution to a problem. That is, if they are given a worthwhile task that allows them to use the Standards of Mathematical Practice listed above and not simply practice rote procedures.

Are you leery of Explain Everything or see potential limitations in its functionality? Then simply capture a video right off the iPad using the camera. What better way to record real time student thinking and gain more formative information than any paper-pencil assessment.

On the Road to Modification and Redefinition

“Through the Learning Technology Plan, students and teachers have the tools they need to investigate, communicate, collaborate, create, model, and explore concepts and content in authentic contexts.”

Based on this vision of the St. Vrain Learning Technology Plan, how are we doing? Yes, we have the devices in our students’ hands (1:1 at secondary), ensuring access and equity. Yes, our new instructional materials adoptions are more digitally-based, packaged with dynamic content. Yes, we have Schoology as a learning management system for workflow, communication, and assessment. And yes, we have the Google apps suite available for staff and students. We have checked the boxes that earned us the distinction of a top 10 district for digital curriculum and integrated technology use in the country two years in a row. The question, however, is around how these devices and tools are being used: Are our students digital consumers or digital creators? (This can also be described as the digital use divide, as defined in the National Education Technology Plan.)

True, digital instructional materials in mathematics offer features and supports that no print textbook will ever provide. Seeing animations of concepts and relationships is much more likely to stick that arduously performing the same tasks with paper and pencil. Students getting instant feedback and help supports with digital assignments provide on-demand help and reteaching opportunities instead of having to wait until the next class period. But these value-added features still describe a student consumption-based model of approaching content; we’ve simply substituted print, static resources with digital, dynamic resources (remember the SAMR model?). So how do we move up to Modification and Redefinition and how might we support our students in transforming the school experience? The answer is not quite that simple in practice: have them become self-directed content creators using the devices and suite of tools at their fingertips.

Math educator Michael Fenton did an ignite talk in 2014, Technology and the Curious Mind, urging educators move away from Indifference, Consumption, Competition, Isolation to Curiosity, Creativity, Collaboration, Conversation with use of technology in the classroom. In 2015, Rick Wormeli published Moving Students from Passive Consumers to Active Creators, where he claims, “this is a call for more project-based learning, integrated learning, and inquiry-method across the curriculum. These three methods provide more opportunities for true student creation than simply listening and repeating content.” In era where a student can simply Google information just-in-time instead of relying on textbooks and teachers in classrooms, students need to engage in tasks where answers cannot simply be Googled (trivial facts) or solved by Photomath (procedural, rote exercises). Curious about project-based learning and have no idea where to start? It’s okay, anything new can be scary and lead to more questions than concrete answers, especially since most of us grew up in a traditional educational setting from elementary school through college (I sure did!). But since Google and Photomath are here to stay, the old paradigm of just-in-case education needs to be transformed using just-in-time technologies and resources. Let’s figure this out together, brainstorm, fail, succeed, and learn from each other, just like we expect from our students on a daily basis.


Dan Meyer: “Beyond Relevance & Real World: Stronger Strategies for Student Engagement”

Check out Dan Meyer’s latest talk at the April 2016 NCTM Annual Meeting & Exposition in San Francisco, CA, “Beyond Relevance & Real World: Stronger Strategies for Student Engagement.”  This talk focuses on the attempts of textbooks to engage students with “real-world” contexts, career connections, and applications that do not relate to our students’ world & experiences. Dan Meyer offers strategies and tips to redefine what it means to be “real world” and why it’s good to start a fight in your mathematics classroom.  Another visionary talk of how teachers engage students in mathematics, not textbooks.

Dan Meyer: “Fake-World Math: When Mathematical Modeling Goes Wrong and How to Get it Right”

As a natural follow-up to Dan Meyer’s 2010 TED talk “Math class needs a makeover,” he’s back with a new video and blog post from a talk in October 2014 at the NCTM Regional Conference & Exposition in Indianapolis, IN: “Fake-World Math: When Mathematical Modeling Goes Wrong and How to Get it Right.”  Another inspiring talk on how textbooks misguide teachers and students around mathematical reasoning and modeling.