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Discussion: Traffic Jam Applet tool
Topic: Cost vs. benefit of using technology
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Subject:   RE: Cost vs. benefit of using technology
Author: Craig
Date: Aug 5 2004
I like this question!  I have been Andy B. up against Jerry Uhl, a vehement
supporter of Mathematica for Everything.  But I can't say I'm a "calculator for
everything" kinda guy.

As a teacher, if I'm presenting something to the class, illustrating a point,
answering a question, collecting class data, etc, I should be able to use ANY
platform that would best serve my needs.  I am lucky to have a reasonable
variety of both hardware and software for that purpose.

When it comes to students using the technology, though, my challenge is to equip
my students with the knowledge, the skills, the "meta-skills," the curiosity,
etc, to be able to choose their own directions in life.  To that end, I am
remiss if I don't strive to give them access to every pedagogically valuable
tool, technology or otherwise.  In order to take advantage, I have to know about
(and be comfortable with) the possibilities.  My "ideal" high school classroom
would be set up like my son's kindergarten class was: a wide variety of tools
("centers") that students would learn to make choices with... so Jeff's idea
about putting as many computers as possible into the classroom is part of it.  I
would LOVE to give students a problem, then let them choose tactile
manipulatives, or their graphing calculator, a sheet of paper and stubby pencil,
an assortment of textual/graphical materials, or a computer with whatever
software they needed.

The reality I face, though, is that my classroom (which isn't mine, and which
isn't the same for every period I teach) is not ideal.  So, the "make do"
mentality kicks in.  I know that, since we require graphing calculators for all
students, they DO have that resource, so they should learn to use it.  When
possible and pedagogically appropriate, I arrange to use either a computer lab
or a classroom equipped with a few computers for student use.  Part of the
reality of limitations on computer access is that I have to be careful about the
computer tools I choose to use: the more time I spend having to teach the tool,
the less time will be available for students to benefit from the tool.  So, I
have to make choices.

One choice I have made is to make repeated use of a small number of tools (such
as a spreadsheet, which requires some time to train, but which has so many
possibilities that each successive use requires less and less "train-up"
time).  Another choice is to use software which my students have on their own
(or parents') computers--again, spreadsheets are ubiquitous, and most
computers have Java, so Java applets (or Flash, or whatever) are useful,
especially "self-contained" Java applets, and applets that I can embed into
files with investigative and feedback instructions (and even, ideally,
self-assessment possibilities).  I have also found value in having
asynchronous learning capability, again accessible from home computers
(discussions, shared space for group projects, etc.).  I'm not saying that I
won't use specialized software; I'd be a fool not to take advantage of the
richness of Geometer's Sketchpad in my Geometry course, for instance.  Other
software packages I come across I evaluate, to the best of my ability, for their
pedagogical value--will the time students spend learning to use the package,
plus the time spent "in transit" (Andy's 10 minutes) be worth the investment in
terms of value to my students' learning?

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