Math teachers with one-to-one technology, where each student has access to an Internet-connected device whenever needed, have the potential to teach in a more effective and individualized manner than ever before. Lacking such technology, math classrooms typically advance from topic to topic in lockstep fashion, with all students forced to move through the material at an identical pace. This hinders high-ability students from learning as much as they possibly could, and it also forces struggling students to move on without ever mastering certain topics. In a subject like math, where content often builds upon previously taught material, forcing students to move on when they haven't understood something can have devastating effects down the road.
The ideal solution is clear: Students should be allowed to work through math content at an individualized pace. With just one teacher and 20 to 35 students in the classroom, plus a fixed semester or trimester schedule in most secondary schools that forces classes to all begin and end at the same time, offering students the ability to work at their optimal pace has never been possible on a large scale.
1:1 technology has the potential to change that.
The Power of Video
Video tutorials allow a classroom of students to receive instruction about different math topics at the same time. This frees the students to move from topic to topic at their own individual pace; it also frees the teacher to stop lecturing and start working with students individually when they need help understanding a certain topic.
Much has been made of the notion of "flipping" the classroom – asking students to watch a video lecture as homework (instead of hearing that lecture in class) so that class time can be devoted to discussion or application of the content being presented. This model, unfortunately, still has students marching through material in lockstep fashion. 1:1 technology can take this idea even further, using video to allow classrooms to be differentiated or individualized instead of just "flipped."
It's a truth so obvious that it should hardly even need to be said: Students don't all learn at the same pace. Yet our current methods of teaching rarely, if ever, take students' learning paces into account. Standards, report cards, marking periods, and 48-minute class periods all work together to ensure that the amount of time spent on a particular topic is fixed and inflexible.
Inserting computers into classrooms won't instantly change all of that, of course. But teachers with access to 1:1 technology who want to differentiate the pacing in their classrooms can begin by doing the following four things:
Push for systemic change. Ultimately, 1:1 technology can lead schools to rethink the ways they force students to learn in lockstep fashion. It's up to the early adopters of education technology to advocate for those changes on behalf of their students.
About the Author: Neven Jurkovic
Neven Jurkovic's interest in teaching mathematics with technology developed while pursuing a Master of Science degree at Southwest Texas State University. Apart from publishing a number of papers on the application of artificial intelligence in elementary mathematics problem solving, Neven is the creator of Algebrator, a widely used math tutoring software. Currently, he lives in San Antonio, TX and is the CEO of Softmath: http://softmath.com/