The integration of digital tools into your math classroom can offer many advantages. For students, this can mean increased personalization, better and more frequent feedback, and more engaging and authentic application opportunities. Teachers can benefit from these improved student experiences, and you may also discover that technology can help establish a more efficient workflow, provide you with better data, and even result in a reduced workload.
For instance, we know it is difficult for teachers to provide instant feedback for every student in their classroom. There just isn’t enough time in the day to check in with all your students and provide the help they each need. This is one area where digital tools can be very helpful. Digital tools can be programmed to provide students with immediate, consistent, and targeted feedback that can allow them to course-correct as soon as they make a mistake or get off track on their learning journey. This can help bridge the gap until you can check in personally with them. It can also allow you to use your valuable time more productively, enabling you to shift your efforts from grading homework to evaluating assessment data and providing necessary interventions.
To further expand teacher capacity, you might compile a collection of robust multimedia, instructional materials, and practice activities in one common digital location. This one-stop shop allows students to more easily access resources on their own when they need them. In many ways, it’s like providing students with a personal, multimedia bookshelf of learning materials, and it’s all available at the click of a mouse. While your students complete their work independently, you are able to move around the room (virtual or physical) and connect with students individually to check in, answer their questions, and offer individualized support.
Additionally, digital tools often allow you to monitor student progress in real time. Through handy dashboards and shared documents, you can quickly see which students need help and provide more timely interventions. While digital tools are not some sort of special pixie dust that will magically and automatically do all of our work for us, they can save us time, give us better data, and allow us to differentiate more effectively. Essentially, when used thoughtfully and intentionally with other trusted practices, technology can free up your time as a teacher and amplify your impact in the classroom.
In addition to these instructional benefits, digital tools also align well with the Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practice and can be used to provide rich learning opportunities that strengthen student understanding of mathematics. As a starting point, consider how the four Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practice bolded below can be naturally strengthened through the integration of digital applications.
- Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them. As students are asked to apply various approaches to solving problems, they can use digital tools that are automatically managed with progress-tracking algorithms to allow for multiple attempts. As students apply concepts, they have instant access to virtual manipulatives that are available to any student with a digital device. With the click of a mouse or touchpad, these tools can be reset and reused as often as needed. Some products have the look and feel of a video game, which adds additional motivation for many students. Like video games, these platforms give students a safe place to try, fail, and try again. They also provide the motivating incentive to “level up,” which encourages them to persevere longer when solving problems.
- Model with mathematics. While elementary students have historically constructed meaning using physical manipulatives—like blocks, drawings, and diagrams—they can also use digital tools for this purpose. Virtual manipulatives are abundant online and are easily accessible through most digital devices. These tools are typically interactive, robust, and easy to use.
- Use appropriate tools strategically. With a computer, laptop, or tablet, students have instant access to a broad pallet of digital tools that they can use to solve problems. These options include online calculators, graphing applications, digital rulers and protractors, and virtual manipulatives, like 10-frames and geometric shapes. As students solve problems, they practice the strategic selection of options from their digital toolbox. Teachers can also leverage websites, simulations, videos, and other digital tools to have students apply their learning in real-world contexts. These options often require students to make tool choices within a single application.
- Attend to precision. Because digital tools provide detailed, immediate feedback as students practice their mathematical skills, they each receive more precise insights into their progress. These tools also provide new avenues for students to express their understanding of mathematical concepts accurately and completely. With digital options, teachers can access student thought more quickly, frequently, and asynchronously—once again freeing up valuable time during class to conference with individual students and offer personalized support. The more immediately that teachers are aware of student errors or struggles, the more consistently that they can hold their students accountable to a higher degree of precision in their work. Similarly, automated feedback provides each student with personalized feedback regarding the accuracy and precision of their work, allowing them to self-correct when needed.
As you explore these resources, consider how digital tools and strategies can power up your math classroom. How can thoughtful tech integration help you to improve your students’ academic achievement, engagement, feedback, application opportunities, and motivation, while also personalizing and differentiating instruction? As you consider where to begin, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the large number of options available. Don’t try to do everything at once. Instead, start small. Choose one high-leverage strategy to try. When you feel comfortable with that one, try another. With each new strategy or tool that you apply, you will be taking another meaningful step on your tech integration journey.