If you’ve seen a kid lately, you probably haven’t seen their face. It’s been buried into their phone or tablet or computer for going on the last six hours. Their thumbs move at an incredible pace as they rattle off text after text, win the next level of the mobile game that’s most current, and scour Instagram for pictures.
Let’s face it, technology has changed the way we interact with the world (and it’s not just our students, as you read this on your device…).
What is interesting, however, is that despite kids’ willingness to constantly be on their mobile devices, it’s sometimes a more difficult sell in the classroom. In my own experience, kids have told me that they would rather “learn on paper” than utilize the technology at their disposal. So here I am thinking: when did our math classes become so old-fashioned? Do they have to be?
The answer is no, but in order to drive your class down the tech route, it is very important that we get the students to buy-in to technology as a method for becoming better math students. I’ve come up with a list of must-do’s in order to get this paradigm shift to happen.
1. Start them early.
It’s important to establish that technology will be a big part of the class early on. It sets the expectation for the student that, in order to pass this class, and in order to succeed, they will have to use technology.
For some teachers, that could mean having their students log on to whatever edtech they have decided on the first day and letting them explore. It might mean adding it into your syllabus and showing students that’s it’s going to be important for their academic success.
Whatever it is that you do, it is important not to wait because if you establish habits and norms that don’t include education and then you try and add it in—it’s going to be a hard sell. Students are creatures of habit and they need structure. If you give them that structure early and it includes technology, they are more likely to adopt it.
2. Make it interactive.
Think about your audience. It’s the same kid I described above. These students love their phones. They love texting, taking pictures, and playing games. You need to take that love into consideration when thinking about the technology that you plan on using in the classroom.
Technology is no longer an e-textbook. Kids need interaction with their tech. If they are going to get anything out of it, it’s going to be because they get the opportunity to explore. It needs to feel less like learning to them, and more like anything else they do on their phones. Look for games. Look for video. Look for anything the student actually engages with—not just a math problem on a computer screen. If it’s not interactive, it might as well be a piece of paper.
3. Take yourself out of the equation.
I have noticed that kids are more likely to buy into the technology that you want when you make it about them. The true value of technology in the classroom is that it can serve as another teacher, and it’s important for students to know that, but not in a way that makes it seem like you are taking the day off.
The true value of so much education technology is that it’s adaptive and it meets the student exactly where they are. What that means is that the reason behind introducing it into the classroom is to provide the opportunities for students to take learning into their own hands.
Students no longer have to rely on the teacher to deliver them the content—they deliver it to themselves. They choose how they receive it, what level of help they need, and no one else ever has to know. They interact with a “teacher” that doesn’t embarrass them (often unintentionally) in front of their peers. They aren’t embarrassed to get answers wrong because again, no one knows they are. By allowing them autonomy and privacy for part of the learning experience, the student can truly unlock full potential.
4. Show them results.
This is the most important aspect of getting students to buy in to education technology. I struggled with this most of the last semester before summer, because even though my students actually comprehended math at a far higher level than before, they didn’t feel it and more importantly, they didn’t see it.
Use the data that edtech provides to you to your advantage. Show students the dashboard that you see and show them that they are actually making progress. Make sense of all the numbers for them. Show them that by using the technology today, they are much better than they were yesterday. Kids need to know that what they are doing is worth it, and there is no better way to show worth than to show them some hard numbers. And think about how that message is delivered—in an era of “high scores” and “most likes,” explain it from that angle: “this is your best mastery level of all-time, great job!” It’s not just about praise—we know we are supposed to give them that all the time. Getting them to buy in requires data that they can understand, so make that available to them.
I was always surprised when students were hesitant to use technology because I always thought it sold itself. The reality is, however, students are very savvy when it comes to deciding the technology they want to use. They have a “rotation” of apps that they likely check in the same order every day so we have to make that math technology worthy enough to be in that rotation. Technology in the classroom is only as exciting as the delivery of that technology to the student. If it’s just a “here’s this tech thing, go figure it out,” that’s a big fail on the teachers end. If there are results, and the students can interact and you make the outcomes about them, you will have a new high score in tech buy-in.
About the Author
Chris Brida is a mathematics teacher in Baltimore, MD. He currently teaches 9th grade Algebra. Chris is a regular guest contributor to our blog, and we feel lucky to have him.
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