Monday, May 2, 2016

Encouraging Effective Use of Technology at the NCTM Conferences

I’ve been counting technology sessions at NCTM annual meetings now for as long as I can remember. (Actually the first listing I made was in 1989 when CLIME was still the Council for Logo in Math Education.) It was done in the spirit of CLIME being a lobbying group for the effective use of technology in math education. Our group felt that NCTM was not doing enough to promote effective tech use at their annual meetings. In the last couple of years I’ve been getting feedback that maybe counting tech sessions is no longer necessary since technology use is now “seamless” at the conferences. Although it's true that Powerpoint is the dominate technology use (as a delivery system) at most sessions, it doesn’t say much about the quality of the tech use in classrooms which is what I tried to count.

So a question arose in an informal conversation that I had with David Barnes, Associate Executive Director for Research, Learning, and Development at NCTM, where we were seeking common ground. David describes the question in an email:

I’ve been thinking about our conversation and how we can work together to move this forward.  First I think that while some sessions need to put technology out there in front, what we should be working towards is sessions where it is seamlessly integrated as well. 

From the program side the challenge with the tech in front sessions, at times, is when does this become a commercial for a product and then be relegated to the exhibitor sessions? 

So the question for you and your crew is what makes a quality technology session? What does it need to do, include, address, etc?  And what are some things that it should not do?  What types of tech session would you be okay with saying that doesn’t really fit within the program?

I’ve not talked to Sarah (Bush) about this, but trying to see if we can do some thinking and collective development work to support the community and our collective efforts.

My reply:

Yes, I agree. We should be working towards sessions where the technology is seamlessly integrated. Last night I watched on video Dan Meyer’s presentation that he gave at the conference. He made a very interesting comment that speaks to this issue.

“This (my session) is not a technology session. I don’t consider myself a technologist, though I do work for a technology company. But I love technology to the extent it energizes pedagogies that I love. Here’s the pedagogy I love and the technology (Powerpoint) I need to do it.” 

Dan used Powerpoint very creatively to demonstrate how you can take a typical textbook problem and turn it into one that is pedagogical sound and engaging to students. Maybe this kind of session needs a special category in the program description. I also remember a session that Robert Kaplinsky did in Boston last year where he posed a problem and spent the hour developing it using technology very effectively. Maybe NCTM can archive and encourage such sessions where the focus is on lessons, activities, etc. that demonstrate this seamless integration and quality of presentation.

I think there were very few sessions outside of the exhibitor sessions where the focus was on a particular piece of software. Neil Cooperman had a session titled “Challenging Precalculus Alternative Assessments Using the Free Online Desmos Calculator” which was misleading to attendees who thought the session would be more about Desmos than it was. So there is a need for software sharing by teachers, but in the context of an interesting lesson.

Here is David's question again:

So the question for you and your crew is what makes a quality technology session?  What does it need to do, include, address, etc?  And what are some things that it should not do?  What types of tech session would you be okay with saying that doesn’t really fit within the program?

One takeaway from my conversation with David was that what CLIME ought/might do is to help NCTM choose those sessions that use technology seamlessly in ways that illuminate one or more of the NCTM principles.

I’m interested in your take. Please let me know by posting below.


  1. I appreciate your persistence here, Ihor. IMO, I never feel cheated by a tech session if the tech session focuses on larger themes that transcend tech brand or even technology itself. If it's a technology session I want to know what the big pedagogical ideas /before/ you show me how a particular tool can realize them.

    1. Couldn't agree with you more. Thanks for the post.

  2. No matter what, the session has to have as a main focus, how to help students learn mathematical concepts. If technology is the tool being modeled for attendees, then it should be a tool that serves the purpose of the learning objective. The learning objective has to be the focus.

  3. Math teachers have to sell a subject that most of their students are not fond of, so I will use anything that will create interest. At conferences, I attend sessions to get ideas to make math more interesting to my students and will help me become a better teacher. I will use any tool at my disposal to make the subject more palatable (and fun) for my students, pique their interest, and make the math come alive.

    Technology is one tool that can help me accomplish this goal and make mathematics more accessible to students. It is a means, not an end. As stated in the Standards for Mathematical Practice, “Use Appropriate Tools Strategically,” using technology is not about mouse clicks or calculator keystrokes. It should be used effectively enhance learning.

    If technology is used by a presenter, I want to know how technology can be implemented effectively, how it relates to the topic of the presentation, why it is pedagogically sound, and what the long term benefits of its use are. I am not interested in bells and whistles. As a presenter, I may mention in my opening remarks that graphing calculators will be used, but that the focus of the session is on the math, not on the calculator. I share classroom-ready materials. I include instructions (aka keystrokes or screen shots in the case of a graphing calculator) to help connect observations from an exploration to understanding the mathematics behind the situation. As teachers, we want students to be able to answer the question, “What does the tool (i.e. graphing calculator, computer) enable me to do?”

    A quality technology session will integrate the tools with the content, demonstrating how the power of visualization enables students to generalize properties and consequently understand concepts more quickly and effectively. Examples of how to interpret the output of technology to demonstrate understanding and computational fluency should be included. After all, the goal of teaching with technology is to help students what tool is appropriate to make mathematics meaningful no matter whether it is a calculator, computer, or pencil.

  4. Of course, I agree with all the comments. Math and pedagogy is what it's all about. However I have to say that in my experience, many teachers want and need help with how to use specific tools, be they electronic or low tech (manipulatives).

    So for example, as an attendee at a conference, if I see a talk with "Desmos" in the title, I would be drawn to it, because this is a great tool I don't know much about. At the Northern CA meeting last December, it turned out I was not the only one: those sessions were completely sold out and I couldn't get in. That tells you something.

    Meanwhile, as a presenter, I have found that I can get a lot of ideas about math and pedagogy in a tool-centered workshop.

    All this to say that this is not an easy question to answer. I would not venture to make a list of do's and don'ts as people's needs are varied, presenters have many options in preparing their talks, and many roads lead to where we'd like to go.

  5. I'm going to add to the mix: I want an opportunity to USE the technology, not sit around and watch someone else use it. Almost every piece of technology I know really well I had access to the technology and an instructional manual (or Google) when I got stuck and I'm usually able to answer 99% of my questions that way.

    I know that most people want to know a little bit about WHY they would want to use some technology so my guess is that a tech-focused session should start with why. "Why does this help kids learn math?" "Why would I use this technology and not some other technology?"

    Then I want a chance to ignore the presenter while they show other people some basic stuff in the tool and play with the tool myself. Ideally at some point I get to see what other people have created with the tool and hear how they solved the problems they had.

  6. Ihor,
    I recently presented a session at the NCTM conference in San Francisco.  I used dynamic geometry to illustrate how the Pythagorean Theorem could be extended.  I happened to use the TI-Nspire CX calculator for this session but I mentioned that any dynamic geometry package could do the same thing.  The focus of the session was on the mathematics involved, not the technology.  I can't imagine trying to do this presentation without technology.  Dynamic geometry makes Transformational Geometry easy to use and immediately gets to the mathematics involved.
    Ray Klein