NCSM Hot Topics: Improving Classroom and Tech Partnerships & Selecting Digital Curricula

Just two years ago, I was an algebra teacher in Maryland. At the time, new math education software was being heavily featured at conferences and in the news, and I was wondering, “How exactly is this technology going to enhance the learning in math classrooms? And what do I need to know to make the most of what’s available?” Now, as a curriculum designer for a leading-edge educational software company, I can answer both of these questions.

Hot Topics sessions on Monday, April 7

I’m going to be speaking at the upcoming NCSM 2014 Conference during two of the Hot Topic sessions on Monday April 7. The subjects to be discussed are “Wisely Creating, Selecting, and Implementing Digital Curricula” and “Improving Partnerships Between the Classroom and Technology.” These topics have become increasingly important as blended learning is adopted across the nation. In fact, it has been suggested that by the end of the decade, most U.S. schools will incorporate instructional technology into their structures and schedules.

Transforming classroom culture and professional development

New technology doesn’t only provide an improved learning experience for the student. It also changes the culture of the classroom, and in doing so, enhances learning in other indirect ways.

A recent position paper by Public Impact, entitled “A Better Blend: A Vision for Boosting Student Outcomes with Digital Learning” made an important point about rethinking classroom structure. It suggests that to make the best use of everyone’s time and talents, schools must rethink the one-teacher-one-classroom structure while adopting blended learning. Encouraging teacher collaboration, development, and leadership is critical to achieving excellence at both teacher and student levels.

Many educators are discovering that professional development is especially important when adopting a blended model. The new technologies require more training and thought than simply dropping the tools into classrooms. There needs to be a concerted effort made to raise the level of professional development around the technologies that are used in blended models, and in understanding how they play a role in the learning process. Teachers report that professional development is often far too focused on the specifics of how to use software instead of how to integrate it into their existing classrooms. That needs to change—and we’re doing something about professional development for math teachers at DreamBox.

Taking the mystery out of selecting digital curricula

With the number of U.S. students learning online projected to reach 10.7 million by 2015, how do you evaluate and select content that will truly make a difference in your students’ learning? During my Hot Topics session, I’ll address how schools can select appropriate software when sifting through all of the options that are currently available. As many schools begin their search, I think they’ll be surprised with how much the market has to offer. Right now, for the iPad® alone, there are over 65,000 educational apps available.

With the power of today’s technology, you must begin with very high expectations when evaluating educational software. It must provide a significant positive impact on learning and be more than simply a game—it needs to actually revolutionize the way that learning happens. Let’s look at a math example. When students learn multiplication, the technology should give them a chance to experiment with building arrays from their own imagination to represent areas up to 1,000 or 10,000 (or down to 0.001). The experience should give visible life to student thinking in a real-time digital environment. The experience should not just be fun, or even efficient, but it should allow new ways for students to explore and represent their own reasoning.

Great technology expectations that can and should be met

Educators should ask a lot of technology. Can it provide continual formative assessment to better understand student needs? Yes. Is the learning fun and accessible so that the student is motivated to keep learning? Yes. Does the technology differentiate for the student so he feels comfortable with his own progress? Yes. Is the program open and transparent to the teacher, so that she can discuss with a student what is being learned, and help the student develop independent thoughts outside of the program? Yes.

The technology available in the market is constantly growing and evolving, and programs like DreamBox are key participants in the cycle of learning between the educator and the learner. From the perspective of a former teacher and current ed-tech professional, I encourage schools to expect the best software to become both “a personal tutor” for the student and a valuable partner for the teacher.

For more information about selecting digital curricula, check out this recent post and infographic.

And be sure to watch for an eBook from Dr. Tim Hudson, Senior Director of Curriculum Design at DreamBox Learning, The Importance of Evaluating and Selecting Digital Curricula available later this month.

If you’re at NCSM, please join me at my sessions on Monday, April 7!

Joe Trahan

Peace Corps Volunteer in Guinea, West Africa | MEd in Secondary Mathematics from GWU, Washington DC | 6-year teacher of Mathematics in Bethesda, MD