Thursday, July 19, 2018

On Making the Ordinary Extraordinary in Learning Math with Technology

"Based on my own research and experience, and the research of many colleagues in the learning sciences and related fields, I firmly believe that technology can transform teaching and learning environments and help students achieve beyond what is possible without the support of technology.  [...].  It is a tremendous challenge to translate knowledge about teaching with technology from schools that are currently doing extraordinary things—both on their own and in the context of focused research projects—into knowledge that is broadly usable by the majority of schools.  Nonetheless, it is a key challenge that must be met in order to employ technology effectively in school improvement efforts."
So wrote Barry Fishman in his article, "It’s Not About the Technology" (Teacher's College Record) back in July 6, 2006. I don't think he would have anticipated that 12 years later we wouldn't have made more significant progress toward extraordinary than we have so far.

In a recent post I wrote about the SAMR model - a framework for tech integration developed by Dr. Ruben Puentedura.

According to Kathy Schrock, the SAMR (substitution, augmentation, modification, and redefinition) is a model designed to help educators infuse technology into teaching and learning. The  model supports and enables teachers to design, develop, and infuse digital learning experiences into their curriculums. The goal is to transform the student's learning experiences so they result in higher levels of achievement.

SAMR Model
Substitution - Tech acts as a direct substitute, with no functional change
Augmentation - adds some functional improvement
Modification - change the learning task; becomes collaborative
Redefinition - performing a task inconceivable without the tech (i.e. Sketchpad or Desmos)

During my years at CIESE* (1990-2007), we developed a similar model using descriptors that were more user-friendly. Here are the stages of "professional growth."

Year 1
Stage 0: Awareness. Announcement of a technology integration project. Participating teachers attend an overview of the project.
Stage 1: Learn. Teachers learn about the technology they will be using which includes a teacher computer station, digital whiteboard, laptops, tablets, handhelds and software.
Stage 2: Adopt a lesson strategy.** (1) Set the stage (2) Do the activity (3) Debrief.
Stage 3: Experiment. Teachers use a one computer station and a digital whiteboard to do a model lesson using appropriate software. Math coach and/or supervisor helps with the lesson. Eventually, the teacher goes "solo" with the lesson. Practicing the STS-DTA-Debrief model lesson/activity is crucial to moving to the Redefinition (SAMR) phase. Administrative support throughout.

Research has shown that combining many thinking skills improves learning outcomes. Creating, applying, remembering, analyzing, understanding, and evaluating can all be used together in rich, well-designed learning activities and projects to improve the effectiveness and longevity of learning results.***

Year 2
Implementation stage. Experimented lessons become a more permanent part of the curriculum. New models introduced that support collaboration. Teachers write new lessons/activities. Teachers mentoring new teachers in the project. Administrative support continues.

Year 3
Institutionalization stage. Original cohort of teachers continues to share their work with colleagues. This teacher to teacher sharing with the help of the math coach becomes the cornerstone of school life.

That was our model at CIESE. And it worked extremely well at the middle school level in Passaic, NJ by 2007. The teachers learned a lot, but what about their students? Unfortunately, they were still bound by textbooks which from my observations kept learning to a minimum. (As of 2015, test scores remain low in Passaic.)

Textbooks continue to be barriers to extraordinary learning. We need dynamic curriculums that not only engage students but develop in them a passion to learn.
*Center for Innovation in Engineering & Science Education at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ

**The heart of effective problem-based teaching is this: the teacher sets the stage with a problem, puzzle, or game containing an interesting context, where school math isn’t the focus; the students then engage in the activity, followed by the teacher debriefing the activity with the students and the math learned is revealed. When all is said and done, the students will learn some powerful mathematics. (Examples forthcoming.)

***21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in Our Times, Trilling, B. & Fadel, C. (Jossey-Bass, 2012), P. 51

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