New and inexperienced teachers are known for teaching in a traditional, didactic manner, rarely expending the extra effort to include computers in their instruction.
When preservice teachers in Curry’s secondary mathematics and science education programs are given ready access to educational technology, however, they frequently use it in their student teaching. Even more notably, at this early point in their careers, they use technology creatively to engage students in deeper learning of mathematics and science concepts.
These are the findings of a series of research studies conducted by associate professors Joe Garofalo and Randy Bell through a grant from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE).
“We have incorporated technology throughout our secondary math and science education programs for years, but too often our graduates have been unable to put their new expertise into practice because of lack of access to equipment in the schools where they student taught,” says Garofalo, who is also co-director of Curry’s Center for Technology and Teacher Education.
Through the three-year grant from FIPSE, Bell and Garofalo were able to supply every classroom in which Curry science and mathematics student teachers would be placed with a laptop or tablet computer and a computer projector. SMART Technologies then donated electronic whiteboards with touch screen capability to the project.
“Many advocates of educational technology assume that every student must be able to put their hands on the computer in order to learn,” notes Bell. “Right now, one-to-one computing is not feasible for most school budgets, and its effectiveness is not well supported by the research. The projector and SMART Board combination allows teachers to bring the capabilities of technology to the whole class at once.”
Sometimes this whole-class method of teaching is actually preferable, adds Bell. “When a skilled teacher engages students’
attention at the front of the classroom on an inquiry with a simulation, or gets them to practice their observation and inference skills on a digital image,” he says, “students may actually learn more than they would if they each had their own computer and the temptation to instant message or go off searching the Web.”
The most encouraging finding was not that preservice teachers used the technology—many teachers display notes on PowerPoint—but that they used it to teach in ways advocated by recent mathematics and science education reform documents. For example, preservice mathematics teachers used technology as more than a computational tool, displaying applets and virtual manipulatives, as well as software for making interactive figures, charts, and graphs. “These kinds of visual representations of math concepts can engage students in active prediction, manipulation, observation, and interpretation—all activities that promote deeper understanding of mathematics,” says Garofalo.
The research funded by the grant also included two small studies assessing student learning of specific concepts, one in a class taught by a mathematics student teacher and the other in classes taught by two science student teachers. In both cases, school students demonstrated a deeper understanding of the subjects at the conceptual level when they learned using the educational technology.
“Our country’s leaders are very concerned about our youth being well prepared for the challenges of a globally competitive marketplace,” Bell says. “Here at Curry, we are discovering the best ways to prepare teachers who can use technology to help their students understand science and math and its relevance to their lives. In the process, we hope our teachers are so passionate about their subjects that their students really learn to love the disciplines too.”