Technology Can Reinforce Teaching
Math was a rather comfortable and interesting subject until I entered high school. Solving the unknown in Algebra, most of Algebra’s content was unknown to me, and plane and solid geometry caused me unbelievable anxiety. But my friend, Michelle (Davis) Erxleben, a math teacher, chats enthusiastically about teaching and her students. One evening she made reference to doing problems on a Smart Board, a totally unfamiliar concept for me. I was intrigued and asked to observe her junior high math class.
Michelle, 34, a graduate of Illinois State University, went to high school and college with my youngest daughter. She has a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction, and has been teaching for 12 years in Creve Coeur District #76, the last nine years at Parkview Junior High. Their district received a generous technology grant and each classroom received a Smart Board, each teacher a laptop, and each student a Netbook. Michelle patiently explained the technology to me, and I later used the online dictionary to reinforce my memory. (Novice computer users should make friends with Google and the online dictionary for easily accessible information.)
Quite simply, the white board replaced the chalkboard. (And with that replacement, out went dusting the erasers after school.) The Smart Board replaced the white board and the classroom became very interactive. “You can do anything on a Smart Board that you can do on a laptop,” explains Michelle. “The Smart Board is basically a projector.” (Think 2012, not projectors of my generation.)
Michelle says she works to build confidence in her students. “I have to try and turn their attitude around about math.” And for young people today, technology is an excellent way to do that. It captures their attention, and keeps them engaged. “I want them to participate in their learning.” Technology also helps teachers reach students in varying ways. “Not all kids learn the same way, and the Smart Board provides ways to use different methods.”
On the day I’m there, her seventh grade students are reviewing percentages and fractions. They can use a calculator or scratch paper and pencil. The Smart Board is used as a game board. The math is familiar, but the manner of teaching is new to me. While not a game participant, I test my knowledge by working the problems. I get them all correct, and rejoice silently.
Michelle’s confidence with her students and appreciation of them is apparent. She doesn’t minimize the challenges of teaching a room full of adolescents, many of whom aren’t excited about being there, but she works diligently to educate them. She says students today have a sense of entitlement that she didn’t experience. (My age group knew nothing about that.) She says, “I will forever stand by the belief that teaching is one of the hardest professions and until you witness all that a teacher is responsible for, it will forever be misconstrued.” And as much as she loves where technology has taken teaching and students, she still feels like teachers are the most vital part of students’ education. She believes firmly, “Technology reinforces what I’m doing, but it doesn’t replace me.”
“I love teaching,” she says, and not for one moment do I doubt that. And it was good being in a classroom again, minus the anxiety.