The Role of Computers in Mathematics Teaching and Learning Elizabeth Broder

Response to The Role of Computers in Mathematics Teaching and Learning
Elizabeth Broder
May 18, 2006
The role of computers in the classroom is indeed impacting our teaching and
learning of mathematics. I believe the key ingredient needed to make this transition
successful is adequate technology training for teachers. Technology is virtually useless
the instructor can utilize this resource in a meaningful way. During my student teaching,
I saw too many examples where technological resources were available, yet went unused
due to teacher ignorance. The most important consideration when implementing
technology must be a thorough workshop for teachers. This workshop should include an
introduction to using the technology, explorations for instructors to try, and most
importantly, an opportunity to brainstorm applications for the technology and share these
ideas with peers. With so little teacher planning time, some lesson planning resources
must be included with any new technology. In my experience, when teachers are left to
develop ideas solely on their own, the technology goes unused.
A second pitfall of this new technological movement is the computer literacy of
our students. It is very easy for teachers to forget that all students do not have equal
access to technology. Even though computers may be available through the school, some
students may not know how to use them. Computer use has become second nature to so
many people, it is easy to assume that all students are computer literate. The question
then becomes how do you cover all the nuances of computer use while simultaneously
teaching a lesson. Even with thorough instruction, students who are already familiar with
the technology have an automatic advantage. Mastering the technical aspect of computer
use can be very frustrating and demotivating for students.
Despite what I perceive to be a poor job of educating teachers on the many uses of
new technologies, computers are already changing the way math is learned.
Mathematical skills are decreasing in importance. I believe this to be both positive and
negative. Computers give students the freedom to think about abstract concepts without
being bogged down by computations. The widespread use of calculators has eliminated
the need for basic operations in everyday life - addition, division, etc. However, these
operations lay the foundation for mathematical thinking and reasoning. Visualizing and
mapping out solutions are quite different from concretely solving these problems. I argue
teachers need to ensure technology does not hinder a systematic approach. Otherwise the
technology becomes a crutch for students rather than an enrichment.
I agree with the author that computer software can help to individualize
instruction. As a teacher it is so difficult to fully meet the needs of 30 students during a
50 minute class period. The variety of computer programs available make it possible for
each student to learn at his own level. Students requiring remediation can make use of
drill and practice programs, while other students needing enrichment can make use of
problem solving programs. Students who learn best independently are able to explore
concepts on their own while others may prefer systematic concept instruction.
Overall, I believe technology to be very useful and motivating in the classroom.
As teachers we must ensure this resource is utilized effectively.