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Teaching Math and Science with Technology

 

Pilar Gonzalez, Loretto Academy, El Paso, TX

Olga Kosheleva, University of Texas at El Paso, TX

 

Pilar Gonzalez is a teacher at Loretto Academy and a graduate student at UTEP, and Olga Kosheleva, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Teacher Education at UTEP

Abstract

In this study we qualitatively analyzed electronic discourse in the online graduate course. The data were collected through students’ personal reflection, surveys and semi-structured interviews. The purpose was to study: the teachers’ attitudes towards using Internet resources in their classrooms, how they find them and to motivate teachers to integrate the use of technology. The findings indicate that most of the teachers became more active and effective in finding relevant and meaningful online resources for teaching mathematics and science in elementary grades.

 

Introduction

The use of technology has become a necessity in our society. Being technology literate is a critical 21st Century skill our children must have and it is no longer a luxury. It is very important to teach our pre-service teachers the appropriate use of technological tools. The challenge is not just to use technology, per say, but to use it in a meaningful way, integrating it with some content areas (Ertmer, 2005).    

 

Teachers are eager to acquire new knowledge, and request better technical training (NEA, 2008). Research shows that adoption of technology in schools is a slow process (Zhao & Frank, 2003). Very little is known about how in-service and pre-service teachers find, access, and use technology resources for their teaching (Johnston, 2009). There are studies demonstrating that teachers tend to use the technology more as an administrative tool than as an instrument to help their teaching (Wilson, Notar, & Yunker, 2003).

 

Research has shown how the teachers’ proficiency in the use of technology will affect the integration of it in the classroom. The teacher has to feel comfortable with the use of technology before he/she will use it with the students (Inan & Lowther, 2009).

 

“Teachers are being asked to learn new methods of teaching, while at the same time are facing even greater challenges of increasingly technological changes and greater diversity in the classroom…[given such challenges] relatively few teachers (20%) report feeling well prepared to integrate technology into classroom instruction.”(Lewis, et al., 1999)

 

The purpose of this study was: a) to identify the teacher’s attitudes towards using Internet resources in the classroom, b) to motivate teachers to integrate the use of technology and c) to study how in-service and pre-service teachers find, access, and use technology resources. The authors considered that by modifying a regular online course on teaching math and science, they could embed a structured set of activities that would compel the teachers to use available WEB resources in their classrooms.

 

Our study focused on 26 in-service and pre-service teachers during the spring semesters of 2008 and 2009 (14 in 2008 and 12 in 2009). They were enrolled in the online class “Development of Math and Science Concepts in Young Children”. This class was part of the ATCP (Alternative Teacher Certification Program) program and it was also part of Master in Education program. The class was offered through Blackboard, and students were located all around Texas.

Specifically we wanted our teachers to embed Internet resources with the content/pedagogy that they could use into the classrooms. Students reflected on their approaches to finding, accessing and using internet resources in order to design effective mathematics and science lessons in elementary grades. Preliminary results of 2008 study were presented by authors at the 13th Asian Technology Conference in Mathematics (Kosheleva & Gonzalez, 2008).

 

 

Methodology

To achieve our purpose we designed several intertwined activities involving weekly class assignments, interviews and surveys. During this class teachers studied concept development in math and science of young children and the teaching strategies necessary for fostering these concepts development at each developmental stage of learning. These teachers already acquired some technology knowledge during previous courses in the ATCP program. Teachers also were exposed to knowledge about reform, innovative, constructivist pedagogy through their previous education.

 

We decided to investigate the process of how teachers progressed in developing strategies for finding math and science resources on Internet. The authors believe that this could be the first step for most of the teachers in terms of incorporating technology in their classroom.

 

The class was designed to have a high interaction within: students with students, and students with instructor(s). Students were provided with modules intended to be covered on a weekly basis. The weekly modules were comprised of the following activities:

1)      Read chapters from the required books (Charlesworth, 2007; Van de Walle, 2007)

2)      Post personal reflections on the chapter(s). In these reflections we asked the students to express their own experience as teachers in the classroom, or their experience as students if they were not teaching yet.

3)      Search the companion websites for the textbooks, explain the search strategy, and post their selected websites together with its critical assessment.

4)      Read and answer at least 2 of their classmates’ reflections.

Final project was to design a Thematic Unit. It required construction of several innovative, technology-enhanced mathematical and science lesson plans that integrated the use of technology along with different content areas.

We assessed students' success, participation in class and use of online resources through a) personal reflections, b) surveys and c) semi structured interviews. Eleven students agreed to voluntarily participate in the semi-structured interview (5 in 2008, and 6 in 2009). The entire class participated in final surveys and reflections.

 

Results

The results of this study indicate that:

 

1.     Developing advanced strategies for searching online resources are appropriate and effective activities for an online mathematics and science education class.

Since the teachers were already taking this online class; we developed this intervention to have them exploit the internet resources, which would help them to better deliver the content while having the students not only engaged but exposed to the use of the internet.

For example a student responded to the interview questionTo what extent and how your attitudes toward using internet resources in teaching changed?” with the answer:

They have improved [her attitudes toward internet], because, like I said, when we started this class I thought: “Why do I have to do ALL this work, who cares?” I was like the grouchy, lazy student. But now I know it was a worthy investment. It was something like I thought that Dr. Kosheleva encouraged doing because she knew what benefits it would have. So, I’m appreciative to that she made us do it because she changed our attitude. Now if I need to do something that I don’t have any information at hand. I will just look for it.”

2.     Chapter readings provided good content knowledge about reform, innovative, constructivist pedagogy that helped develop strategies for Internet searching.

Teachers mentioned that their search for internet resources was facilitated by reading the chapters first. After they read, they knew what they really needed for their students.  During the spring 2009 semester, we asked the teachers not only to look for the websites they could use with the specific weekly chapter, but to also define their criteria when searching. For example in one of the survey question “Which criteria guided you in selecting this or that website?”  The student’s response was: “What I did is I read the chapter and whatever information I thought it was important to reflect on, I searched the websites for that.

The teachers that participated during the semester spring 2008 class, made use of the companion websites that the textbooks provided. During the semi-structured interview 4 of the 5 teachers that answered it mentioned that they used these websites. Since the companion websites are divided by chapters, they thought that it was easier to look into the recommended sites first. The fifth teacher mentioned that the tool she was using was Google.

Even though the teachers that participated in the spring 2009 class expressed that the companion websites were not as useful as they thought they realized that when searching through the internet they need to be careful with the keywords they used. “I tried narrowing my search by using key words from the chapter”.

 

3.     As evidenced by final surveys, most of the students became more active and efficient in finding relevant and meaningful online resources for teaching mathematics and science in elementary grades. As per a student comment: “Fortunately, I became a better web surfer over the course of the semester.  I will say that the search is anything but efficient however; I am hoping that implementing the ideas will make instruction more efficient.”

 

After the teachers took the class and answered to both pre-survey and post-survey, we analyzed their results and we could see an increment in the use of technology. During both semesters after taking the class teachers tended to use technology during several more days per week. Data show the different amount of days the teachers used to teach with technology, before and after taking the class in both semesters (Spring 2008, Spring 2009). Here we see how the use of the internet:

When we asked the question: “How many days per week were you able to teach with technology?” in 2008 we saw the following changes:

a)      Before taking the class 69% were using technology only one day a week. After taking the class this percentage decreased to 46%.

b)      Before taking the class only 8% were using technology five days a week. After the class this percentage increases to a 23%.

In 2009 we saw the following changes:

a)       Before taking the class 42% were using technology only one day a week. After taking the class this percentage decreased to 25%.

b)  Before taking the class only 8% were using technology five days a week. After the class this percentage increases to a 25%.

 

When we asked the questions: “What is your level of interest in searching good/effective mathematics activities?” on pre-survey and similar question on post-survey in 2008 we saw the following changes:

a)      Before taking the class 36% had low or no interest in the search. After taking the class only 7% had low or no interest in the search.

b)      Before taking the class 36% had a very high interest in the search. After taking the class this percentage increased to 64%.

In 2009 we saw the following changes:

a)      Before taking the class 25% had low interest in the search. After taking the class this percentage decreased to 8%.

b)      Before taking the class only 25% had a very high interest in the search. After the class this percentage increases to a 33%.

 

Comments from students

Below are examples of students’ responses taken from interviews and weekly reflections.

 

“I plan to do a Google search to find the websites by searching the keywords “supercenter, virtual manipulatives and math games.”  I then will choose sites from the list that look age appropriate for first graders.  I then will spend some time just exploring the website and check how easy it is to navigate and whether it is designed for students or teachers.”

 

“Ah, well none of my classes has been so intertwined with the internet as yours has. So this was like my first like website searching.”

“Reading [the chapter] created a graph of what I was trying to find at the websites.”

“... at the first it was like “Oh, more time, more work Blah, blah, blah you know? But after a while I was like: Oh, I’m so glad they made us do this because I learned a lot and I know it’s out there now.”

 “I have always known the importance of using internet resources in classroom. This class has reinforced that theory”

 “I definitely plan on using Internet resources in my classroom. The internet offers students access to resources that we might not otherwise have access to.”

“On a scale form 0-10 [0 = not at all, 10 = very much], I think that I have rethought my teaching practices to about a 9”

“My criterion for online resources has evolved over this course.  My search is more refined now.  It is not enough for students to have fun games to play….I want the content to truly build on concepts not just give them something to do.  Also, I am looking at more sites that help me with teaching content instead of my searches being only for student consumption.  I am beginning to look online more often.”

Discussion

We found that the majority of the teachers expressed that their initial attitude towards the use of internet resources in the classroom was negative because they considered it an overwhelming and time consuming activity. Some of the teachers thought it was not worth pursuing, because they don’t have the technological resources in the classroom nor the time to implement the use of it.

All of the teachers recognized that they had to have the skills and the confidence to know how to use the Internet resources. They felt that if they don’t have them, they would be in a disadvantage compared with their students.

After taking the class, the teachers realized that even though there is a vast amount of internet resources, they need to be careful and critical when searching for activities to use with their students. They realized that there is a difference between having the students “busy,” and having the students practicing a targeted skill. The surveys demonstrate that the teachers with a low interest in searching for websites decreased 17% during spring 2008 and 29% during spring 2009.

To motivate teachers to integrate the use of Internet technology, we structured all the weekly activities in such a way, to compel the teachers to follow a predefined set of steps. They had to integrate the content with the use of technology. The final project had to use some of these resources in integrated lesson plans; at least one lesson plan for mathematics and one for science.

To discover how in-service and pre-service teachers find access and use internet technology resources, we used the discourse from weekly postings and answers from surveys and interviews. Teachers in general stated they started their searches just using Google and Yahoo. While students from spring 2008 reported they made extensive use of the companion websites from the textbooks, students from spring 2009 kept using Google and Yahoo. For the later group, the change was that for narrowing their searches, they used the keywords and concepts from the readings.

Conclusion

The authors wanted to teach a graduate class about basic mathematics and science concepts online leading to a natural incorporation of activities including exploration of mathematics and science resources available online.

 

Our results indicate that developing advanced strategies for searching online resources are appropriate and effective activities for an online mathematics education class that lead to a change in the teachers’ attitudes.

The teachers were provided with a framework that included chapter readings, weekly postings and critical assessments, repeated constantly through the semester. They learned how to integrate the content with the technology and realized at the end that this is a useful and worthy tool they could use in their classrooms.

As evidenced by final surveys, most of the teachers became more active and efficient in finding relevant and meaningful online resources for teaching mathematics and science in elementary grades.

For future work we could study the possibility of transfer the methodology to different areas of content, besides mathematics and science, and how these teachers can transfer the experiences gained in this course to their coworkers.

References

Charlesworth, R. (2007). Math and Science for Young Children (5th ed.). Clifton Park, NY: Delmar Learning.

Ertmer, P. (2005). Teacher pedagogical beliefs: The final frontier in our quest for technology integration? Educational Technology Research and Development, 53(4), 25-39.

Inan, F., & Lowther, D. (2009). Factors affecting technology integration in K-12 classrooms: a path model. Educational Technology Research and Development. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11423-009-9132-y

Johnston, C. (2009). Pre-service elementary teachers planning for mathematics instruction: The role and evaluation of technology tools and their influence on lesson design.  Ph.D., George Mason University, United States -- Virginia. Retrieved from http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?did=1833924411&Fmt=7&clientId=2515&RQT=309&VName=PQD

Kosheleva, O., & Gonzalez, P. (2008). Teaching in elementary school with technology: how teachers use innovative online resources in their mathematics and science lessons? In W.C.Yang, M. Majewski, T. deAlwis & K. Khairiree (Eds), Constructing Knowledge in Mathematics with Technology: Abstracts of the 13th Asian Technology Conference in Mathematics, (p. 38). Bangkok, Thailand: ATCM Inc.

Lewis, L., Parsad, B., Carey, N., Bartfai, N., Farris, E., Smerdon, B., Green, B. (1999). Teacher Quality: A report on the Preparation and Qualifications of Public School Teachers. (NCES 1999-080). Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/pubs99/1999080.pdf

NEA. (2008). Technology not being used effectively in schools. Retrieved from http://www.nea.org/home/10908.htm

Van de Walle, J. A. (2007). Elementary and Middle School Mathematics: Teaching Developmentally (6th ed.): Allyn & Bacon.

Wilson, J. D., Notar, C. C., & Yunker, B. (2003). Elementary In-Service Teacher's Use of Computers in the Elementary Classroom. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 30(4), 256-264.

Zhao, Y., & Frank, K. A. (2003). Factors Affecting Technology Uses in Schools: An Ecological Perspective. American Educational Research Journal, 40(4), 807 - 840.