A veteran math educator explores a variety of technologies—and a useful framework.

GUEST COLUMN | by Becky Archibald

As the Math Content Specialist in Oklahoma’s Edmond Public Schools, one of my greatest challenges is to find new and innovative ways to integrate education technologies into math instruction.  

While there are many possible frameworks available to support this effort, I’ve found my district’s Five Pillars of Instruction, which is also the framework driving our district-wide 1:1 initiative using Chromebooks at the Secondary Level and our 2:1 initiative using iPads at the Elementary Level, is a helpful guide.  

Through the 5 Pillars—inquiry, choice, create, collaboration, and reflection—Edmond Public Schools have found new ways to leverage technology to more deeply engage students in learning.

As we began our journey into using technology in the classroom, we knew that a central place for all students to start their digital day was necessary. We chose the LMS Canvas™ as our “1-stop shop” for students to receive and submit digital information on a regular basis.  This program is a great companion to our 5 Pillars of Instruction.

Here are ways we’ve aligned each Pillar to math instruction:

Inquiry

At Edmond Public Schools, we believe inquiry is more than asking a student what he or she wants to know—it’s about triggering curiosity.

Activating a student’s curiosity is far more important, and more complex, than merely delivering information. When our students were provided Chromebooks, the world of mathematics opened up to them. Instead of being bound by the information provided in a textbook and by teachers, students were now able to dive into a digital world created with great, standards-aligned content such as that offered by Discovery Education, whose Math Techbook™ and Streaming™ services form the cornerstones of the dynamic digital learning environments we create for our students.

There are many ways Discovery Education supports our efforts to improve inquiry, but one way is by helping educators connect what students are doing in the classroom to the world beyond school.

How does studying conic sections relate to our satellite system? Telescopes? Space Travel? Once students begin to see the connections, their learning takes on a deeper meaning and becomes permanent, not just momentarily for a test.

Choice

Giving your students choice in the way they learn, and how they demonstrate their learning, increases ownership and autonomy. Choice does not mean content or standards get thrown out the window; instead, rich standards-based lessons and activities are at the heart of the choices you give students.

Choice allows students to operate in a space where they are comfortable. A great example is when we offer students the choice of taking notes with paper-pencil or with technology. Just because the teacher finds it easiest to retain information the traditional way, doesn’t mean that’s the same for everyone. There are multiple apps, Kami™ being one of our favorites, that provide a digital way to take notes.  

When a student doesn’t perform well on a test, one of the most common reactions from parents is that their child “isn’t a good test-taker” and that is why they didn’t do well on the test. This is another opportunity to offer students choice in how they demonstrate knowledge. Some students may choose the traditional test, but others may choose to do a research paper on how that particular skill is applied.

Do I need students to complete 25 questions about probability or can they research, and report back, how probability is used when McDonald’s launches their Monopoly game?

One assessment lets us know how they could perform on a standardized assessment and the other lets us know if they understand the application of the skill. If either methods provides the ability to determine if the student knows the skill, why not give students choice?

Create

To create is to “evolve from one’s own thought or imagination, as a work of art or an invention” (Webster’s Dictionary). When we give our students the opportunity to create within our classes, they are bound only by their imagination, and they achieve the highest level of learning (Bloom’s Taxonomy).

Technology has provided our students with freedom in the classroom.

Freedom to show their knowledge of the objectives beyond the traditional homework assignment. Students who are musically minded may write a song or create a dance; those who have a love of writing may publish a blog, while others may make a video. The possibilities are endless.

Whichever form the students create for presenting their knowledge, when they are part of the process, it becomes more meaningful. The first ways we introduced the create pillar to our students was illustrating how to create Paper Slides.  Then we introduced a second tool, Powtoons™, an animation software program where students can create videos. These two tools provided the jumping off point for our students to see the infinite number of ways they could bring their spin on showing their knowledge.

Collaboration

In its simplest form, collaboration is getting individuals, who may or may not have similar interests, to work together in an organized manner to a satisfying, and appropriate, group end. Students must communicate effectively, work as a team and demonstrate self-discipline, while collaborating with their peers. This, in turn, increases their learning and maximizes the educational experience.  

In a classroom without technology, the saying goes, “The discussions in the classroom, stay in the classroom”.

The internet has changed this dramatically and students are now able to work with other students in their classroom, schools, district and around the world. It begins by having students share a Google™ Document with a classmate, to working on a Google™ Slideshow with students in another teacher’s room, to a complex collaboration with students in a classroom outside of their school, state, or country to design a garden that will be the entrance to their schools.  

Reflection

Reflection helps students understand they need to look back before moving forward. Students should step away from their work and ask themselves, “What have I learned from doing this activity?” or “What do I need to know in order to be successful?”

Teachers who promote reflection in their classrooms ensure that students are fully engaged in the process of making meaning of their learning. Reflection, in the math classroom, is most often done in the form of test corrections. While this is a valuable, and effective, form of reflection, we can use technology to enhance their reflection on learning. Using an Excel™ spreadsheet, have students track their mastery of a standard as a jumping off point to digital reflection.  

When students enter their own grades, it becomes personal, not just a number the teacher shows them on a grade check. This software can then take the raw data and create multiple graphs which will then tell a visual story of their learning. Most phones, and in our case Chromebooks, have the ability to do video recording. Have students do a weekly self video reflection on how they have grown in their knowledge during the week and what changes they are going to make next week to improve how they learn. Many of our teachers use Padlet™ for reflection. Padlet™ provides student a platform for reflection in both print and video options.

When a student has to reflect on what they know, and say it out loud, it becomes real.

Our Mantra

Inquiry, Choice, Create, Collaboration, and Reflection have become the mantra guiding Edmond Public Schools’ effort to integrate technology into math instruction. Do you have a framework you are using? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.

Becky Archibald is the Secondary Math Content Specialist for Edmond Public Schools in Edmond, Oklahoma. She has held a variety of positions during her 19 years there, including teaching Middle School and High School Math, Math Department Chair and 8 years as Content Specialist. In Spring 2019, Becky presents at National Council for Teachers of Mathematics annual conference on ways to assess student knowledge. Write to: becky.archibald@edmondschools.net