Month: March 2016

Relative Advantage of Using Technology to Enhance Learning in a Special Education Algebra Classroom

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Time For Technology Message Showing Innovation Improvement And Hi Tech

According to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, “teachers and curriculum developers must be knowledgeable decision makers, skilled in determining when and how technology can enhance students’ learning appropriately and effectively (NCTM, n.d.). There are many math-specific technologies available, such as GeoGebra and desmos that can be used to develop these all-important higher-level thinking skills. According to Sherman, “students who have engaged with higher level mathematical tasks have demonstrated a greater ability to employ multiple solutions strategies, utilize multiple and connected representations, use graphing calculators to solve problems, and explain their reasoning than do those who have not” (2014). Using technology in the math classroom allows all students to better focus on these types of tasks.

“By using technological tools to generate and measure dynamic and interactive representations, students can focus on looking for patterns and making and testing conjectures rather than on drawing and measuring triangles. This use of technology supports a shift in the focus of students’ mathematical activity and thinking from drawing and measuring to looking for patterns and making and testing conjectures” (Sherman, 2014).

This is critical for special needs students who have difficulty understanding lower level concepts. Using technology as a bridge over these basic concepts allows struggling learners to engage in richer, deeper levels of mathematical thinking that otherwise may not have been possible.

The use of technology in the mathematics classroom predates the current technological revolution by many years. The graphing calculator has long been an integral part of the math classroom, allowing students with weaker basic skills to perform grade-level mathematics. The more proficient students are with this tool, the better they can focus on inquiry and problem solving, instead of the fundamental skills in which they are lacking. “Although the current emphasis in mathematics instruction is on learning higher- order mathematics skills, students often need more resources to support the practice of basic skills” (Roblyer, 2014).

This is a near perfect description of my classroom. The use of technology allows me to reach my students on a deeper level, pushing us to have richer mathematical conversations. Technology invokes curiosity, leading my students to identify what they wonder and ask questions that they would not have been able to imagine without it. It allows them to attempt to answer those wondering types of questions in a risk-free environment. While using Desmos to graph two lines through a given point, they are free to explore and adjust their hypotheses without difficulty or judgment until they find success. Google Maps allows me to teach the distance formula in the area we live. My district is a walking district, and many students were surprised at the distance they walk to school every day. They were completely engaged in the activity because it was both authentic and relevant. Tutorials are widely availably on sites like Kahn Academy or Virtual Nerd, allowing teachers to easily differentiate instruction. The use of technology in the math classroom changes everything. It changes how students think and interact with each other and with their teachers. It breaks down the walls and brings the outside world into the classroom. “Technologies can also serve as a catalyst to move teachers toward an instructional style that is more student-centered, active, and relevant to the world in which they live” (Roblyer, 2014). Instruction is more authentic, engaging and relevant  when technology is used appropriately.


National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (n.d.). NCTM. Retrieved from

Roblyer, M. (2016). Integrating Educational Technology into Teaching (7th ed.) Massachusetts: Pearson.

Sherman, M. (2014). The role of technology in supporting students’ mathematical thinking: Extending the metaphors of amplifier and reorganizer. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 14(3). Retrieved from



Relative Advantage of Game-Based Learning in a Special Education Algebra Classroom

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According to Keeler (2014), digital classroom games fall into three categories: game-based learning, game sheets, and gamification. Game-based learning is the use of games to enhance learning. These often provide simulations to draw the learner in and allow the student to experience an environment. Examples include SimCity, World of Warcraft, MineCraft, and CellCraft. Using these games in the classroom can have many positives such as increasing learner engagement, teaching effective collaboration and problem-solving skills and bringing classrooms into the 21st century with technology. These programs give teachers concrete information on a student’s progress, useful for directing instruction and providing progress information for special education student IEPs. GBL also allows for individualized instruction, something that can be very valuable in a classroom with a wide range of learner abilities. Unfortunately, for me, the drawbacks far outweigh the advantages. I am not a gamer, and these games take a long time for me to figure out well enough to instruct my special education students in their use. Time I don’t have. I also have to admit that my interest level in them is not high enough to make me want to make the time. Games that are drawn-out and complicated tend to lose my students. They get frustrated very easily and will completely shut down if they don’t get it immediately. This is a defense mechanism against feeling stupid. It is much “cooler” to say something is stupid and refuse to try it than it is to admit they don’t understand. It is also difficult for me to find enough time to play these immersive games in my limited class time. I have forty minutes per day to teach common core level algebra to students who have very few of the basic skills. Isolation is another concern. Many of my students lack social skills and have few friends. Will it reinforce this behavior if I use GBL extensively? Gamification is the application of game-based elements to non-game situations, such as awarding badges or levels for work completion (Keeler, 2014). Classcraft is a good example of gamification, as are rewards programs offered by stores such as Starbucks (Isaac, 2015). This reminds me of token economies, and I suspect more educators use this form of GBL without realizing that they are using gaming. I had not made this connection before researching this topic and find it an interesting suggestion. While I have used gamification in the past, I am not currently using it. It does cross my mind periodically, but the amount of work implementation requires seems daunting right now.

I find the last category, pagesheets, the easiest to use. Keeler states that pagesheets fall between GBL and gamification, and allow students to practice concepts learned in class. They are basically gamified worksheets, with students practicing a defined skill with game elements added, such as avatars, sound effects, and storylines (2014). Graphite, Cool Math, Brain Pop and Khan Academy all offer games that fall into this category. These are easy to find and do not require a lot of time to learn or to complete, making them perfect for my students.

As a special education math teacher, I find games can be a challenge to implement successfully. Many of my students are poor readers. They also tend to be hesitant to try anything new without near 1:1 support from their teachers. They are quick to frustrate and give up easily. If something takes too long to understand or master, they will just walk away. And yet, they love to play games. Easy games that they can quickly learn and play successfully. To this end, I use a lot of Keeler’s pagesheets. These allow me to choose a specific skill and let my students play a game to practice it. They need so much repetition and practice to master algebraic concepts, and this is something beyond a basic worksheet that encourages more learning. I will often find a short game to reinforce a skill and attach it to our homework in Google Classroom. Even if they don’t do the homework, many are willing to play the game, allowing me to get something out of them outside of the classroom. And the relative advantage of that is very, very high.


Isaacs, S. (2015, January 15). The difference between gamification and game-based learning. [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Keeler, A. (2014). Beyond the worksheet: Playsheets, GBL, and gamification. Retrieved from Edutopia website:

Walled Gardens and Social Media: A Teacher’s Perspective

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Walled gardens. I had never heard this term applied to technology before. It was a description of the beautiful stone walls all over Ireland. I’m a little sad that it now has a more negative connotation for me. This research was interesting but not terribly enlightening. I am constantly finding sites that I could use, but not in the classroom as they are blocked. Many math or special education blogs that I enjoy cannot be accessed during school hours. This presents many problems as I get a lot of ideas from them but must print information in case I forget something. As a special education teacher in a high poverty district, filtering adds unexpected challenges. Many of my students do not have access outside of the school network. They are not learning how to interact appropriately on the web, nor are they learning about how to stay safe on unfiltered web sites. While I can, and do teach this, not being able to demonstrate for them turns the lesson into a lecture, causing many of them to either tune me out or stop listening because they think they know what I am talking about. I believe that fewer sites should be blocked, and teachers should be teaching digital citizenship more thoroughly. My VoiceThread on this topic can be found here:

Walled Gardens VoiceThread