At the end of July, I travelled to Hamburg, Germany for the 13th International Congress on Mathematics Education. With over 3,400 participants, and hundreds of papers, posters, lectures, and discussion groups, you would think it would be almost too big to make sense of. However, something that quickly becomes clear is that the numeracy issues that we are facing in Ontario are not an anomaly. All over the world, people recognize the need to keep driving the art and craft of teaching mathematics forward, while keeping up with the new challenges that today’s students introduce.
I participated in a study group throughout the congress which focussed on the uses of technology in schools. It was eye-opening for me to hear stories that sounded so similar to my experiences here in Ontario coming from teachers from the UK, the USA, Hong Kong, Germany and Australia. I was told that many teachers are quite skeptical of the use of technology in the classroom. When you step back and look at what educators are really saying, it becomes clear that this skepticism of technology in the math classroom is partially because “technology” is an incredibly vague term in our current culture. Many people (including teachers) may have dismissed educational technology based on a few experiences with bad apps. However, we cannot paint all educational technology with the same brush. As was said at the ICME study group, asking whether technology is effective in mathematics education makes about as much sense as asking if pencils are effective for mathematics education - the medium does not matter nearly as much as what is done with it. However, a lot of educators and even researchers are essentially asking this question. It is more constructive (and more meaningful) to ask how technology can be used most effectively to benefit students, rather than whether technology, treated as a single entity, is effective.
International working session, made possible by ICME!
At this ICME study group, we were able to discuss and identify the following few key points that would help to support teachers to embrace technology in their math classrooms:
- Support from ministries and governments to include the use of technology in the curriculum and provide professional development to support teachers.
- Teachers who will champion the inclusion of technologies in math classes in their schools.
To this list, I would also add the need for stellar research-backed digital learning environments. There is little point in adding use of technology to the curriculum if teachers are likely to stumble upon and try out programs which are inadequate or of low quality. We need interactive technology creators to work closely with teachers, education researchers, and user experience experts to examine best practises and integrate them into digital learning experiences that really take advantage of everything that technology has to offer students of mathematics. A digital environment such as this, one that works for students, would do a lot to convince teachers to take that leap and change their practices.
Luckily for me, I work with a group of people who are doing exactly that!