Saturday, January 10, 2015

Pushing the Technology Envelope in Math Education

Keith Devlin author of "Mathematics for a New Era: Video Games as a Medium for Learning" has thrown down the gauntlet in a recent article for NCTM to become more proactive about the use of technology in math education. In  his Huffington Post article "Edtech Investment Is at Record Levels -- Where Is All the Money Going?" he says that though there is $1.36 billion headed towards Ed tech very little of that money reaches down to K-12 education. Most of it winds up in Higher Education leaving a mere $642 million for K-12 where most of that money goes to few entrenched incumbants like Pearson. Dr. Devlin writes: "The situation may be starting to change a bit. In 2014, a few of Silicon Valley's top-tier venture investors dipped their financial toes into the K-12 market for the first time in over a decade, putting funds into companies such as Remind, Edmodo, BrightBytes, and Clever." So there is evidence that teachers are starting to use more technology in the teaching of math. But it needs encouragement.  NCTM is trying, but there is a rub. Dr. Devlin continues:
"The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), the dominant US professional organization for math teachers, has the use of technology in classrooms as a main pathway to improving learning. The NCTM's Principles to Actions says, on page 5: 'An excellent mathematics program integrates the use of mathematical tools and technology as essential resources to help students learn and make sense of mathematical ideas, reason mathematically, and communicate their mathematical thinking.'
So one way to find out what the vanguard of K-12 mathematics teachers are doing in their classrooms -- and are planning to do -- is to look at the list of presentations given at the huge annual NCTM meeting. How many of those presentations are about, or at least make reference to, technology?  
Ihor Charischak, president of the NCTM-affiliated Council for Technology in Math Education, has done just that. He released his findings in a recent blogpost.
According to Charischak, at the NCTM Annual Meeting to be held in Boston, MA, next April, there will be 733 sessions. He combed through them and identified just 97 that highlight technology in some form. At 13.2 percent, not only is that low, it indicates a continuing drop in interest in educational technology. At last year's NCTM Meeting in New Orleans, 21 percent of the sessions were technology-oriented, a year earlier, in 2013 in Denver, 28 percent of the sessions had a technology theme, and the year before, in Philadelphia, there were 38 percent tech sessions, an all-time record.  
Not only is there relatively little evidence of teacher interest in incorporating any kind of technology in the classroom, but the trend is clearly down. Moreover, what technology interest Charischak could identify was hardly in new technologies: It was predominantly the use of handheld calculators and Computer Algebra Systems (like Mathematica), which where highlighted in the title or abstract of just 15 sessions.  
What these data show is that, to date, practically all that much-hyped edtech funding has had virtually no direct impact on what goes on in the K-12 math classroom. Overall, K-12 math teachers are not incorporating new technology in their teaching."
Dr. Devlin finishes with this:
"Genuinely revolutionizing K-12 education within a decade requires a transformative, national, public-private initiative, perhaps reminiscent of, but much less expensive than, the NASA Apollo Project to put a man on the Moon.  
How badly do we want 21st-century-relevant, first-class education for the nation's children?"


  1. I'm curious:

    a) What percentage of NCTM sessions would need to be focused on technology for CLIME to declare victory? Something less than 100% I'd hope. 50%? 60%?

    b) How does this "percentage of total sessions" indicator differentiate for sessions about junk technology? It seems as though there's no accounting for quality in this metric.


    1. a) There isn't any particular percentage where we would declare "victory." The "gold standard" was 38% that occurred at the Philly meeting in 2012. Why was that special? NCTM highlighted technology with a strand at that conference. The “quality” of the sessions was determined by the descriptions. Obviously it was just an opinion on my part which was based on my experience of the conference. Many of the sessions (though not nearly enough) dealt with issues related to using Web 2.0 tools, blogging and online education. One unique feature was that there was ubiquitous free wifi at convention center so the silly Email checking booths were retired by NCTM. Fortunately at the 2013 and 2014 NCTM meetings NCTM created a island of free wifi in their booth. So at least you could have access there. In the session rooms wifi access was poor. Having wifi at annual conferences is a $$$ issue with NCTM.

      b) Quality control on speakers has always been a problem. Decisions are solely based on written proposals. As far as I know everyone submits a proposal (including the highlighted speakers) and then a subset of the program committee makes the final decisions.

      What do you mean by junk technology? The worst I’ve come across are TI-84s but that’s just my personal opinion.

  2. Another factor...even though I works with a group that does a lot with technology in math education, we don't often do technology talks at NCTM, because there are no labs and no Internet in the session rooms. I have occasionally done technology-focused talks, but it would be a lot easier if the infrastructure were available, instead of having to "fake" it.

    1. Thanks for sharing that, Annie. Your complaint is something that is tolerated by NCTM because it's too expensive to pay for Wifi in Convention rooms. I hope more folks share there displeasure with lack of Wifi at the annual conferences because having it would enhance the experience of conference goers dramatically.

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