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Survey Says: Tech Use in Math Class on the Rise, But Needs Improvement

In a state-by-state breakdown, Maine is leading the way in innovating with active computer usage.

While the percentage of students who use a computer in math class at least once every few weeks has been steadily increasing over the past few years, 74 percent of eighth-grade math students report they never or hardly ever use computers in class.

Education Week’s annual Technology Counts survey looks at how schools in each state make use of classroom computers. In eighth-grade math class, the survey found that only 1 percent of students report using computers in math every day, 5 percent say they use them once or twice a week and 20 percent use them once or twice a month.

When these numbers are broken out by state, Maine leads the way in using computers for innovative math work:

  • 67 percent use computers at least once a month to play math games.
  • 53 percent report using a graphing program.
  • 29 percent use computers for geometry.

The survey found that other students report high “passive” use of classroom computers for drills and other reviews. These numbers mimic reports from fourth-grade math students as well.

“Students are still largely using technology for drill and practice rather than for more complex tasks, such as creating projects, conducting simulations, or doing extensive research,” reads a press release on the Technology Counts survey.

Active Use of Computers in Class Has Big Benefits

Though the passive use of tech can promote efficiency and productivity, active technology use can help students develop better collaboration and communication skills.

An easy way to encourage active use of technology is to ask students to create rather than consume, like the use of graphing and geometry programs in Maine’s schools.

Active use of classroom technology in math class can help teachers give students a better sense of how mathematicians work in the real world.

“[Math] is a subject predicated on hand-calculating, and that’s the bit that the computers should be doing. Humans should be doing a higher level of problem-solving using the machinery,” says math education expert Conrad Wolfram in an EdTech article.

By introducing abstract problem-solving with the help of computers, Wolfram says that educators simulate how students might work in a real job. With the concern that students lack the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills needed for a lot of today’s jobs, integrating something like computer science into math class can foster these skills and facilitate active tech use.

In a blog post on the American Mathematical Society’s website, Emmanuel Shanzer, the creator of Bootstrap World, a curriculum that teaches kids to program video games using algebra, writes that adding computer science to math class can be quite effective if teachers facilitate an authentic integration of tools, curriculum and pedagogy.

“As members of the math-ed community, we have a responsibility to make sure this integration happens authentically, and in a way that supports math instruction instead of undermining it,” he writes.

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Aug 10 2017

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