I usually don’t use this space to rant about other blog posts, but I really have to do it in this case.
I am a reader of Dangerously Irrelevant (which is geared towards K-12). This week, their guest blogger is writing about mathematics at the high school level. See today’s post entitled “Idealism and Reality in Math Technology

Jason Dyer (guest blogger) says that there are three problems and implies that they are unsolved. I don’t disagree that these are problems, but I do disagree that they are unsolved.

Problem #1: Difficulty in working with Equations on a Computer
Solutions: Download MathType (download the 30-day trial, it becomes MathType Lite after 30 days), use a screenshot to share your equations, use Jing (or a myriad of other image-embedding programs) to embed the image of the equation in HTML, like this:

My calculus students (most of them 19-year-olds, some of them dual-enrolled high school students) are doing just fine with this. It’s not hard. You can also scan or take a picture of handwritten work, take a screenshot, and embed the image using HTML! How many of your students have cameras on their cell phones? Well, here’s a productive use for them. You can share diagrams (from any program or file type) using Jing images.

Problem #2: Students 3.0

I’m not sure how the acceptance or non-acceptance of graphing calculators stops people from using Internet applications. Do you mean that they need to be able to share the results of a calculator online? One easy way is to use emulator software (TI-SmartView, TI-emulators, Casio emulators, etc.).

And … hello …. how many tutorials that TEACH YOU how to use graphing calculators do you find on the Internet? (here’s a bunch of tutorials from my department’s Calculator Help Page) At the college level, we generally pick some “entry-course” in which we teach how to use a graphing calculator and we integrate these new skills throughout the course. After that course … YES, we expect students to know how to use their graphing calculator. We’re NOT going to spend three class hours in every math course teaching basic graphing calculator skills, just as we’re not going to review other material that we consider “prior knowledge.”

Have you guys seen Wolfram Demonstrations? Demos with Positive Impact? Explore Learning Gizmos? NLVM? AMSER? MERLOT? If Wolfram Demos doesn’t convince a math teacher that it’s time to start using the Internet, then you’re right, there’s no hope.

Problem #3: Sometimes there really IS only one right answer

Heard of online homework? (WebAssign, MyMathLab, etc.) Each student gets a different algorithmically generated problem with their own unique right answer. When students go to the message board for help, they have to share what their problem was and what they tried to do so that another student can help them. Other students weigh in with tips for doing the problems. Sure, you aren’t going to have a thread with 100 posts for one problem, but it’s not unusual for 4 or 5 students to comment on a single problem with their strategies. Last week I had a thread with 21 posts on one problem. That’s not too shabby.

Now, I know that you probably can’t assign online homework for high school students, but what’s to stop you from using it and visiting a computer lab twice a week so that students can work on their own individualized problem set? If all you do is collect handwritten homework, it’s likely they are just copying each others work in the hallways (at least that’s what they tell us they’ve done in High School when they get to College). Plus, on message boards, you are less likely to have the “one student dominates the discussion” problem. Students with questions get to ask in a non-threatening environment, and students get to share the multiple ways they get to an answer.

How this week will roll? I doubt you can think of a problem that we (in the online math community) haven’t found a solution too. Maybe we all just need to communicate our needs and solutions better between K-12 and higher ed.

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