Obstacles and Solutions for Integrating Technology into a High School Algebra Classroom

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While integrating technology into a mathSolutions Not Problems Notice On Board classroom should be a goal to strive towards, there are some significant obstacles to full integration. The first and most daunting is the difficulty writing math functions and symbols on the computer. Drawing graphs, typing square root or cube root signs, creating fractions, even writing simple vertical addition and subtraction problems becomes a challenge when one is trying to type them on a computer. Fractions end up looking like this: 3/5 and my special education students often misconstrue the meaning. Even the graphing calculator has programming to make fractions look like fractions, so the inability to write them in the same format across multiple platforms is a problem. Without access to special math terms, typing a square root problem looks like this: \sqrt{4}. This is LaTeX, which is used in gMath, Google’s answer to inputting math terms. My students find this task very difficult, rendering the relative advantage of using gMath very low. There are many solutions to these issues, ranging from not using technology at all to trying to piecemeal something together to make it work. My favorite program for inputting formulas and symbols is MathType by DesignScience. My math department has been using it for years with no issues until we became a GAFE school. It does not integrate with Google Apps for Education which we are encouraged to use. The add-ons that Google has to input math are weak. It is much faster to write things out with pencil and paper. I use my Elmo to project what I am writing, or I have been known to snap a picture of a problem and throw it up on our Classroom site for discussion. When I must type equations in a document, I use Word instead of Google Docs.

Sometimes technology makes things too easy for students. GeoGebra and Desmos are wonderful graphing programs, but they don’t allow the student to graph the equation. All the student is required to do is input the equation or the points and the program will complete the graph. This makes the technology too helpful and removes that learning curve and with it the understanding we earn when we create something for ourselves. In my classroom, the solution is to use these programs as a check after completing the graph on paper or a dry erase board. If a student is truly stuck, I will scaffold the assignment by having them input the information into Desmos and using that to create the graph. As they gain confidence, they will use it just to check their work.

The graphing calculator used in high school classrooms is a very controversial topic. Many teachers do not like the reliance students have on this tool, stating that it erodes knowledge of basic facts and becomes a crutch. In the eyes of a special education teacher, this calculator is a tool that allows students to participate in deeper, richer mathematical discussions. My students are missing many of the basic skills. They do not know the times tables, nor how to divide. Many are unable to do basic addition and subtraction. Without the calculator, they cannot manage algebra. Using the graphing calculator skillfully levels that playing field. Teaching them how to use it well is an important part of my curriculum. As my overall goal for my students is to teach them how to solve problems by finding needed information, the graphing calculator fits that criteria. As an adult, if I don’t know how to do something, I will look it up or find a tool to help me. My students need to learn that same life skill. According to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, “ When teachers use technology strategically, they can provide greater access to mathematics for all students” (NCTM, n.d.). My solution to this argument is to encourage use of the calculator as a tool. Many of my students will try to do the math in their heads but often get it wrong. We talk a lot about finding and using tools to help us be the best that we can be. I find they are more willing to use a tool, then something they feel they need because they have an IEP.

The issue with graphing calculators is the question about why we are using them at all. They are old, outdated and prohibitively expensive. None of my students can afford their own, and while my district supplies each teacher with a classroom set, this does not help when they are trying to work problems at home. Desmos is the beautiful, FREE solution to this problem but we are not there yet. I teach my students how to use both the ti-84 and Desmos. The only reason I use the 84 at all is because New York does not allow the use of Desmos on the state exam. It is my hope that eventually we will follow Texas, which is now allowing a special testing version of Desmos on the Star Assessments. This needs to happen and happen quickly, as the continued use of this expensive, outdated piece of technology further widens the digital divide.

Technology is an important part of today’s mathematics classrooms. According to the Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators, “students have to be better prepared to use technology efficiently and fluently both so they can learn mathematics better and apply what they learn in the workplace” (as cited in Roblyer, 2016).
As programs, apps, websites and tools continue to evolve, the relative advantage of using technology in the math classroom will continue to rise. It will also create new challenges and obstacles, such as the newest apps that allow students to snap a picture of a problem and then it will solve it for them. Luckily the ones that I have tried so far have not been consistent enough for students to rely on, but I am sure that time will come in the near future.


National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (n.d.). NCTM. Retrieved from http://www.nctm.org/Standards-and-Positions/Position-Statements/Strategic-Use-of-Technology-in-Teaching-and-Learning-Mathematics/

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


One thought on “Obstacles and Solutions for Integrating Technology into a High School Algebra Classroom

    Gail Davis: EDTECH Learning Log said:
    April 11, 2016 at 10:54 pm

    Great insight into your day as a Math Teacher! I enjoyed reading your post and it seems that you are aware of the “cheating” side of technology, which is good to know. Kids these days can be sneaky, right? I didn’t think about the fact that students cannot type out equations the same way they would write them on paper. That is great to know, and I guess if I was in a class now, I might have known that, which shows you just how easy small ideas like that can be forgotten or unrealized by programmers.


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