In the 18 years I have been teaching there have been a few constants. The teacher controls the effectiveness of any lesson and no technology can engage students with depth of learning without the effectiveness of a teacher. In the few months that I have been blogging I have tried to make it a point, even though we are using the Discovery Math Techbook, to not mention it simply because it is new and in reality I wasn’t sure how good it was. That said, I had a pretty good hunch or we wouldn’t have purchased it. After 14 weeks in, it is time to give it due justice.
This year we adopted the Techbook in 6th through 8th grade simultaneously with the iPad. We don’t use the Techbook for every lesson but we use it for almost all of them. There are certain things we kept from previous years that were so effective we brought them along. It’s funny but even several of those lessons don’t quite seem strong enough any more. I mentioned this in an earlier post but I have the wonderful opportunity to see the Techbook as a Math Coordinator, a teacher, and a parent of a student going through it. In all aspects so far I love it. Don’t get me wrong, there are glitches with technology, there are some alignment issues that we are working out, and there are teachers who just “want to hold a book.” None of these problems even compare with the pedagogical issues we had with a physical textbook. I have seen teachers open up and in a short time span allow students to take more control of their learning by allowing them to engage in inquiry based learning. I have consistently seen lessons with students in groups surrounding an iPad all pointing to parts of it, moving diagrams, asking each other questions, and learning in ways I only saw in movies. I have seen and heard teachers talk about the concepts they didn’t think they would understand and about the depth of the conversations students are having. I have also witnessed my own son thinking about math in a way he didn’t have to before.
Much of this is due to the incessant request to “explain” their answers. We have done this for years in the classroom but not to this level and not while typing. I didn’t expect it but students have no problem writing a quick scribble for an explanation. However, when they need to type it rarely do they just put something down. Shockingly, we get far more complete sentences which means much more thought went into the answer. We still have many students who are struggling to latch on to the new format and as usual a portion of our students just are not succeeding like we want them to. However, today I witnessed something that made me smile. Students in 8th grade were learning about slope. Previously they would have had the teacher explaining about rise over run, drawing triangles, doing some calculations, and if lucky participating in some hands-on activity. The Techbook took a slightly different approach. They tied it directly to the unit rate in a competitive swimming triathlon where students need to pick their swimmers. The student chose a swimmer from a group at the top of the screen. The computer showed them a sample swimming time and they calculated their rate (speed) all trying to assemble a that would beat the “World record time.” I observed students in groups of 2-3 working on this while the teacher walked from group to group and eventually started talking to me because he didn’t want to step in the way of the kids. In the time I was in the classroom it would be an underestimate to say students worked out 10-15 in depth slope situations without even coming up for air. They were trying swimmer after swimmer trying to get the best rate when all of the sudden an entire group jumped up, stood on their chairs and cheered. They won the world record! Seconds later so did another group, and another, and another. You see, EVERY person in the classroom figured out how to do it. They enjoyed themselves to the point of rewarding each other with high-fives. Not the simple “good job” ones but the kind you get when you make the winning shot in basketball.
All of this had so little to do with the teacher it caused me to think. This was a good teacher but nothing, besides allowing them to learn, was done any different than any other teacher could do. It was the combination of outstanding curriculum and the proper use of technology that allowed students to engage at such a deep level. Students were discovering and using the shortcuts that form our mathematical algorithms. They weren’t told the algorithm and forced to use it. They found it and determined its true use!
I was asked to blog for Discovery due to a lucky happenstance of several situations. Upon hire it was clear I did not have to blog about the Techbook and for several posts I have not. This is me, telling anyone who wants to read that as a K-12 math coordinator this is a program worth looking at. We made the change to the Techbook and I have no regrets. There are bumps in the road but the positives outweigh the negatives by so much it’s not worth comparing. I spent much of this afternoon writing thank-you’s to several teachers who are really making a difference. I figured it was time to thank a program that is making on also.