Are Math Teachers Just TI Salesmen?

“Something else that has popped up on my radar recently as we move toward giving every student a Chromebook next year is trying to figure out ways to take advantage of that technology – particularly in the area of assessment. As my boys have been going through college recently, I know that they have had logins to different sites that generate unique problems for each student, provide hints and then also score the assignment. I am assuming that the instructor is able to pick out the types of problems and then the software does the rest.

I am caught in a quandary as to whether or not to continue replacing calculators and buying batteries if the kids are going to have better tools online, but at the same time, we don’t necessarily want them online when they are taking a paper-and-pencil test.

It would be nice to know what is out there, what others may be doing, and how much extra it all costs.”

I have been contemplating this question a lot as we move towards the summer.

Desmos is now going to be integrated into the Smarter Balanced Assessments – it is a very good graphing calculator, and has a website, free apps, and many of the features that you always wanted (such as scroll bars for coefficients, multiple colors, and the ability to automatically find intercepts and intersections).

It is perfectly reasonable to demand students put their phones into airplane mode during tests and quizzes. (Most phones have a “airplane” icon when in airplane mode – it is relatively simple to identify inappropriate usage.)

I also have students using the MyScript calculator – it takes some of the notation confusion out, as it more or less reads whatever arithmetic they need, up through trig ratios and logarithms. Students who tend to sit and wait for others to calculate because they “don’t like fractions” or “aren’t good at math” are now racing to write their calculation first.

Relying on this for all students ALMOST works, with no additional cost. However, there are usually a few students who don’t have a phone. For these kids, I have some old TI-84s, or scientific calculators. It isn’t ideal, especially training students on multiple platforms, leading to awkward instructions. On the other hand, current technology is vastly more intuitive – when students can’t figure out what happened to their graph, they just zoom out.

Having students use their own technology allows them to extend the learning to their everyday lives. I have had students argue about correct answers, and automatically pull out their phones to show their thinking with a graph or quick calculation. Compared to the inconvenience of altering assessments, this lifetime effect seems worth the cost.

Finally, I have noticed that a great deal of old mathematical texts focus on calculation being enough. Even algebraic manipulations can be automated now through technology (rather than the previous arithmetic automation and graphing automations afforded by calculators). Shouldn’t we begin to focus on the other aspects of math, such as creating something to calculate, or interpreting the results of the calculations?


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