Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Changing the math classroom - computers first, then the teacher

Gareth Cook's article "From desktop to desk: A compelling way to teach math - flipping the classroom" caught my eye as it mentions Khan Academy and how the approach of using the computer to 'lecture and teach' and then using the classroom with a teacher to help students might be an alternative way to improve math achievement.  I have been reading about the Khan Academy lately, so this forced me to delve a bit further this morning.

I have looked at a couple of the videos and they seem to be mostly how-to type videos, though Khan's voice and the way he talks is very compelling - definitely kid friendly. .You get the sense that he 'gets where you are coming from' and he explains things in a very conversational way and at their level. The practice problems are based on a gaming principal of earning 'badges' as you progress and get correct answers, even though the problems themselves are very much just skill based (at least from the ones I sampled). Students can track their own progress, teachers can track students progress.  And it's free.

So, I get it - it's on-demand teaching, albeit direct teaching, that can help students with math skills (and actually it's not just math - there are other subjects as well).  The video library is vast. In this age of standardized testing this is a great resource, and the fact that it's free makes it even more attractive. It's very thoughtfully done and clearly well thought out. As a student or parent or teacher, this is a great resource and clearly the Khan Academy is having an impact in the educational market.

But, there is a part of me that wants to just rebel against this - it seems to simply be taking the traditional lecture and putting it in digital format.  Students are still relatively passive - watching, rewatching if necessary, practicing and getting rewarded if they perform well.  They practice problems, get instant feedback, have goals that motivate them to succeed, have support if they get stuck. Very much a traditional classroom experience but on the computer.

However....the constructivist in me wants to scream and shout and say STOP!!!!  I want kids with their hands-on the math - using technology to discover, not sit and get the information. 

Rather than a video that tells them what slope is and how to calculate it, why not a dynamic software activity that relates a real-context situation to slope and gives meaning to the term and what the calculation of slope actually means to the situation? Maybe what I really want is a happy medium - a combination of this lecture format with the ability for students to do the math (and not skill just skill practice)....hands on technology that lets students play and explore the math concepts and their meaning, versus just their algorithm.

There must be a better use for technology than just taking our traditional classroom lecture and moving it to a digital format.  Unfortunately, I think until we get away from the push for standardized testing as the only measure of student achievement, this type of technology usage is what will permeate the educational market.

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