Technology-Based Mathematics: Tools and Content for Teaching, Assessment, and Accountability

By Reilly, Rob | Multimedia & Internet@Schools, September-October 2004 | Go to article overview

Technology-Based Mathematics: Tools and Content for Teaching, Assessment, and Accountability


Reilly, Rob, Multimedia & Internet@Schools


IN A RECENT posting on Teachers.Net, a math teacher who "just recently began to teach [a] tenth grade class about linear functions" stated that the "level of difficulty is very high in addition to being stressful in the perspectives of the students." Certainly linear functions have never been easy for most students. The teacher then asked a much deeper question: "Does anyone know some sort of strategy that would help my class better understand the concept of linear functions and how it relates to everyday life?" There was a follow-on response that asked about keeping track of which students knew what.

These are terrific questions. It shows that these math teachers want to be sure their students understand the underlying concepts and can then apply those concepts to real-world situations. Not only that, but there is a concern that teachers should be aware of which students are getting it. and which are not. And that's a good thing ... a very good thing!

In recent years, various publishing companies and even start-up companies have entered the packaged Web-based curriculum market. It seems that the next big thing on the Web is Web-based and computer-assisted systems. But the further I explore this area, the more I believe that the next big thing on the Internet is going to be finding out how to wade through all these products and end up with what you need!

Oh, for the simpler days when we just needed to evaluate a few textbook series and select one for the school district! As I recall, selecting a textbook series was not all that difficult; the various textbook publishers were not all that different. After you and your colleagues reviewed the textbook under consideration, you'd have a final meeting, discuss the pros and cons of each, and then make a decision. The cost of the product was certainly a primary consideration, the quality of the teacher's manual was another, and that was about it. It was, for the most part, taken for granted that the amount of time spent in correcting the tests, assigning lessons, preparing lectures, etc., was fairly similar, no matter which textbook series was purchased.

But such is not the ease with Web-based and/or computer-assisted products. There is a wide range of features that each company offers, and of even greater concern is what is not offered. For example, some products are designed to be used throughout the district; some are linked to the publisher's textbook; some only provide for tracking of objectives and outcomes, assuming that the teacher's will develop the lesson plans; most are aligned with the various state standards, but some are not.

The point of all this is that trying to figure out what is best for your classroom, your school, or your school district is now much more complex than buying a new textbook series was 20 years ago.

In this article, I've taken a look at several math and assessment packages in an effort both to describe them and the benefits that technology-based products can bring to math teaching and assessment--and to address the issue of how to look at and select such products.

The Decision Process

The experts suggest that before you delve into selecting a Web-based or computer-assisted product for your classroom, school, or school district, you should do a needs assessment, and then evaluate the various products before you buy anything. This certainly seems to be great advice. But the more I think about that needs assessment model, the more it seems something is out of kilter. I agree with the idea of performing a needs assessment before buying anything. However, I think we are really talking about a three-step rather than a two-step process.

It seems to me that most of us don't have a basic understanding of what is involved here. I suggest that it is critical that we first have a sound overall understanding of what Web-based or computer-assisted programs actually are capable of without trying to figure out how this gizmo will work in our particular school situation! …

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