Classroom technology changes over time
Last spring I found an unopened roll of plastic, about 10 inches wide, among some old school stuff. I asked several colleagues if they knew what it was, but no one had a clue. It turned out to be transparency film for an overhead projector, the likes of which no one had seen in a while. Other examples of equipment from my early teaching years are now obsolete.
So much of the technology we use in the classroom today we too easily take for granted. It is hard to imagine how we would be able to survive without Internet access in our classrooms or without equipment to project from our laptops.
Computers are certainly the most visible tools in schools today. I was an early adopter back in 1999, when I was given a laptop and an LCD projector to use in my classroom, thanks to a federal grant. I soon acquired an interactive whiteboard, which enabled me to control my computer at the board. It was great, and I developed all my lessons on the computer.
All teachers now have this access and capability, and tools and software that are so much more advanced. We—teachers and students—are fortunate to have the materials and support to keep up with technological advances.
On the other hand, our students’ exposure to computers is focused mainly on ensuring that they complete district and state tests. For locally developed common assessments (a phrase meaning “tests”), the computer is used to score multiple-choice sections. Students get immediate feedback on their test results, and teachers can analyze each student’s skill level. Computers take the drudgery out of some test scoring and prepare students for taking state tests, where the stakes are higher.
Obviously, many teachers use computers in creative and innovative ways. Unfortunately, even though I was initially ahead in the use of computers in the classroom, I now feel left behind and teach in a mostly traditional manner.
I like to see how students work out problems, and what they are thinking through their handwritten homework and quizzes. I have a hard time making multiple-choice questions that actually show me where an error in the student’s calculations may have occurred.
I know there are ways to give students feedback on electronically assigned work, but I have not kept up with how to do that, instead opting to write notes on students’ daily assignments. It just seems easier, in the long run, for me. “Did you add instead of subtract?” “This looks really good, but please try #4 again using another method.” Many times I show examples of calculations or graphs on this work, which I don’t know how to do in electronic formats. So, I guess I am a bit of a throwback.
I am old fashioned in other ways, as well. I still believe there is value in using a compass and straightedge to do geometry constructions, but you probably already guessed that. I also have a slide rule in my classroom that few people have ever used. Technology can do wonders for teaching and learning in the right hands, but some traditional methods can still be effective.
Ari Klein is a lifelong community member, math teacher at Cleveland Heights High School, and president of the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union.