Obstacles and Solutions for Integrating Technology into an Algebra 1 Class

I understand why using technology in the classroom is important, and even vital in the current digital age.  I want to provide my students with learning opportunities that reach them on their level of comfort with electronics.  My current school system is involved in BYOT and is incorporating Personalized Learning into each core class.  I strive to use technology in the classroom so that I can be consistent for the students who are using technology in other classes; however, I have some obstacles that keep me from integrating technology the way that I want it.

The biggest challenge for bringing technology into the Algebra 1 classroom is ability to type mathematical symbols on the computer. Algebra students must work with square roots and cube root, exponents, and fractions, just to name a few.  It is time consuming for a teacher to type these items into the few software programs that allows these symbols to appear in the proper format.  Teaching students how to properly type the symbols requires another day or two of lessons until they practice it enough to remember.  Something as simple as a fraction is a challenge because we want it written vertically, but most technology applications only allow it to be typed as “1/2” which makes it difficult for students to line up the numerator and denominator in a larger problem.  In more complex fractions, you must incorporate parenthesis to isolate the numerator and denominator such as (3x+2)/(6x+4).  The popular line of graphing calculators from Texas Instruments addressed the formatting issues within the last 10 years with MathPrint, so the disconnect from paper and pencil to calculator has disappeared, but there is still a lack of fluency to the appearance of most computer applications.

The solution that I have been using to help with writing the mathematical symbols always seems to revert back to Microsoft’s word processor.  In Microsoft Word, there is an equation editor available to use, but it sometimes displays too small for the details to be read.  Teachers can buy MathType software to use an an add-on in Microsoft Word and PowerPoint, but it is cost prohibitive to do that for all students in a class.  Google Docs has recently added the ability to use some mathematical symbols, but it does not include the full collection and it is not available in Google Slides.  The best solution that I have found as a teacher is to type equations and expression into MathType, use the snipping tool to save the expression as an image, and then paste the image into the other application.  Sometimes this works, but the images do not always line up in the Google Doc or Google Slide or images are not accepted in the other applications designed for educational uses.  Google Forms started allowing images in the question, so that has been an improvement, but images cannot be used in the answer choices of multiple choice.  I have also written equations and expressions by hand to scan and then copy the selection as an image as well.

Another challenge for bringing technology into the Algebra 1 curriculum is the emphasis on functions and graphing.  Students must be able to plot points on a coordinate plane, graph a line, graph a parabola, and create box-and-whisker plots.  Pearson and McGraw Hill have web-based programs (MyMathLab, MathXL, and ALEKS) that allow students to graph a point, line, or curve by clicking on specific points of the graph, much as a student would do with paper and pencil, but they come with a hefty subscription price.  I have not encountered other software or websites that allows for the student to do the graphing.  Some students have tried to use the drawing tools available in Microsoft or Googles word processing and presentation software to draw the graph on top of a coordinate plane image, but it is time consuming and not accurate since the line does not “stick” to the point that you place.  Online graphing programs like Desmos does the graphing for the student, so it can be used to check their answer, but it loses the opportunity for students to practice the concept.  At this point in time, the solution for this issue seems to be that students need to practice these skills with paper and pencil or do fundraising to purchase the specialty software.

Integrating a calculator into an Algebra 1 class is a challenge, but for a different reason than the other obstacles that I have mentioned.  There are plenty of opportunities to use a graphing calculator and it has been updated to reflect the formatting that students use.  The difficult part is finding balance so that students are not dependent upon the technology.  I still value the importance of knowing multiplication tables and being able to add or subtract integers in your head or at least with scratch paper.  Students need to recognize the patterns that occur in those arithmetic principles in order to apply them to algebraic topics such as factoring or simplifying rational expressions.  I appreciate the ability that the calculator can offer for students to check their work as a confidence builder, but I do not want it to be the only way they get through my course.  According to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, “ When teachers use technology strategically, they can provide greater access to mathematics for all students” (“What is the role,” 2011).  I do not want my student to fail an Algebra test when he understands the algebraic concept but has difficulty with the arithmetic such as division.  Using the calculator selectively, he calculator can help to demonstrate that understanding of a higher level algebra concept without being penalized for lacking a foundation.

Technology offers many opportunities for exploration.  Using technology in the algebra classroom can help give a visual representation to an abstract concept.  Using technology in the algebra classroom all teachers the opportunity “to build students’s conceptual knowledge of mathematics as well as to connect their learning to problems found in our world” (Roblyer, 2016, p. 308).  We want to provide students the opportunity to interact with the world outside of the classroom walls so that they will have a seamless transition into the workforce.

References

Roblyer, M. (2016).  Integrating educational technology into teaching (7th ed.). Boston: Pearson.

What is the role of technology in the teaching and learning of mathematics?  (2011 October).  National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.  Retrieved from http://www.nctm.org/Standards-and-Positions/Position-Statements/Strategic-Use-of-Technology-in-Teaching-and-Learning-Mathematics/

 

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One thought on “Obstacles and Solutions for Integrating Technology into an Algebra 1 Class

  1. I can imagine that using technology in Algebra 1 can be difficult with all the unique symbols. I remember when I was taking Chemistry in high school we had to write up our lab reports with all our math calculations, step-by-step. I often used the equation option in Microsoft word, however sometimes I could not always make it work or the equation would be too small. In order to make it work I often drew the symbol on my lab report after I had printed. For graphing, many of the teachers in my school district use GeoGebra. It is a free software that allows you to graph multiple equations along with various geometric shapes. You had mentioned that students need to know their multiplication facts without relying on a calculator. I completely agree! I have elementary students who are learning basic addition, subtraction and multiplication facts asking me “Can I use a calculator?” Especially in elementary school students need to learn the concepts of adding, subtracting and multiplying before they go to a “shortcut.”

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