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How 1:1 Enlivens Math Classrooms
Author: Brandon Dorman, Computech Middle School | February 11th, 2014

Students poring over a task, using graphs and spreadsheets to analyze data, excitedly discussing the implications of their experiment and how they can model it - sound like the traditional math class to you? Probably not. When I came to my current technology magnet middle school three years ago (Computech Middle School in Fresno, CA), I was hoping to see technology used for the good in every classroom. While there was technology present in math classes, it was usually projectors displaying powerpoint notes - a great way to use technology to substitute paper/pencil, but not where we wanted to be. It is my belief that every time we use technology we need to be helping make students creators of content, not passive partakers. Thus, I started brainstorming with my new Principal and site-based PLC (Professional Learning Community) to make that happen in math classes.


When I was first working on a one- to-one scale in the classroom, I made a mistake many teachers do in that I was using technology as a substitution for what I was already able to do. Formative assessment with, “clickers,”, turning in assignments with technology - great ways to increase efficiency and work in a cleaner environment, but not always able to be used in the 21st century learning paradigm. Still, it also takes students some time to get accustomed to using technology in math instead of the paper and pencil method (and no calculators!) that they have been used to. So I introduced changes gradually and was patient, offering to give my students practice tasks, or to use paper and pen if needed until the technology wasn’t standing in the way of the content we were striving for.

Before I took a class with AALF We've Got Laptops, Now What?! Foundations for Success a book that helped me in my practice was Leading in a Culture of Change (2001) by Dr. Michael Fullan. In it, Fullan discusses the importance of leaders knowing what changes they want to make and helping make those happens in a systematic fashion. I knew I wanted to enable students to use technology for content creation and collaboration, and so I was able to modify tasks to highlight the advantages that technology enabled. The AALF class helped me step back from my previous efforts and re-focus on why and how I should use technology in my math class.

A watershed moment about the power of 1:1 environments in math came towards the end of last year when my team used a one minute video from Dan Meyer’s 101qs.com about a domino spiral. Students only saw the outer ring fall, but had to use all of that information to find out how long it would take for the entire pattern to fall. We let them use their own devices to measure how long it took, to time, to chart, to collaborate, and many students utilize all of the tools we had previously learned with! We were thrilled to see students using Geogebra to make a model, Google calc to input data into a spreadsheet to predict future times with formulas(circumference, rate formulas…), and most importantly, students playing the video over and over to see new patterns and predictions. Since students had their own devices to view the data and video, they were able to all take a look at different ways to investigate the problem. In all students found seven distinct methods to approximate the time it took for the dominoes to fall that were within .5 seconds of the actual time it took. The classtime was not without its challenges. Many students wanted to give up or have me give them the answer. To remedy this I set up a class Padlet page (a digital bulletin board - students like the free-form nature of the board as opposed to a stale google Doc) where students asked each other leading questions that had helped them find the answer.

Without a 1:1 environment in use, students would have passively watched the video and probably come up with one or two methods of presenting their findings. Having laptops and tablets in front of them with the video enabled the students to take the problem and make it their own, with their own paths to a solution. In addition, the classroom was abuzz as students struggled to find different solutions, and it was amazing to hear how one possible solution would start with one group and begin to ripple across the rest of the room and even between different classes. One to One devices in a math classroom enable shy students to not be afraid to fail, and more importantly allows the teacher to give direct feedback to students to re-engage the task from another angle.

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