Using the iPad in the Mathematics Classroom

[Lisa Nussdorfer] Using the iPad in the Mathematics Classroom

By | Published December 3, 2012

I try to attend every iPad session I can. The technology interests me itself but the massive interest of teachers at these conferences interests me even more. Lisa Nussdorfer’s session would have broken through the fire marshall’s maximum three times over if she had let everyone in the room who wanted to attend. What accounts for that interest?

These are expensive tools, after all, and the question in the back of my mind at all times is, “What problem are they meant to solve?” If “iPad” is the answer, then what is the question?

Is the question:

  • “How can we incorporate technology students love into our own practice?”
  • “How can we lighten the administrative load in our classrooms?”
  • “How can we enhance and expand access to the very math our students learn?”
  • All of the above.

In every iPad session I’ve attended, I tend to feel like the rest of the participants and the speaker have all settled on the question or questions, while for me that question is still open.

These sessions must be hell on presenters, who have to differentiate a population as diverse as any you’ve had in your classroom. We had participants with every level of experience from those who didn’t know that double-tapping the home button gets you a list of open apps to those who were reliably using to distribute and receive class assignments. There were teachers managing one iPad, six iPads, and thirty iPads per classroom.

So Lisa Nussdorfer covered some of her favorite apps and fielded questions for the remainder.

She highlighted ShowMe, Educreations, and Explain Everything saying, “You’ve heard of Khan Academy. These give you the ability to be Khan.” (A participant called out Doceri as another alternative.) Later she said, “I wanted to be Khan briefly but whenever I show a video to a kid they’re kinda like ‘Eh.’ It didn’t quite have the response I was expecting.”

Another participant said, “I don’t use [those screencasting apps] because they don’t look good and I don’t sound good on them.”

Nussdorfer called Algebra Touch the coolest math app out of all of them. It’s a useful illustration of algebra skills, but a participant pointed out that “Algebra Touch does the work for you.”

She pointed at another app and said, “This is free but you have advertisements so that’s kind of a problem.” I’m hoping we’re all on Nussdorfer’s page with this one. Advertisements in front of kids should be a non-starter.

The questions from the crowd took us in some interesting directions. One asked Nussdorfer why she wasn’t recommending Fuse, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Algebra textbook for the iPad.

Nussdorfer replied: “I got the sample of it and thought, ‘It’s a textbook.’ I thought it was like a textbook. If you’re going to spend money on an iPad, you should get something more than just a textbook. And it’s sixty dollars.”

Another participant called out the low resolution of writing on an iPad, relative to writing on a whiteboard or paper (see above, where the word “Doceri” takes up half the width of the screen):

I’ve found the iPad device to be not a very good device to write on, at least with math. You just don’t have a fine enough stylus or control over your writing. It’s like one of those big pencils for first graders.

As I said, I always find these sessions interesting and I’m glad I attended. At the moment, the question that interests me is, “How can we enhance and expand access to the very math our students learn?” But not just on an app-by-app basis. I’m not necessarily in the market for a list of apps mapped to content standards. I’m mainly curious how an investment of tens of thousands of dollars to put digital, networked devices in every student’s hand will result in more interesting math being taught to more students. That question, for me, is still open.

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