Tech This Out- Math Instruction

June is upon us which means if your school isn’t on hiatus for the summer, the end is near. For many educators that might mean family trips, time to catch up on projects, and a much needed break from the classrooms we pour our hearts into for nine months. But summer might also be a time to try something new for your classroom that the jammed-packed school year doesn’t provide. Though my area of expertise is secondary mathematics, I’m going to suggest some technology exploration that will to build conceptual understandings that engage kindergarteners all the way up to post-secondary learners.

When it comes to technology in mathematics classrooms, educators might first think of calculators and online apps. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to sort through the sea of terrible math apps to find the few true gems that exist. Many math-focused apps hone in on drill and practice rather than exploration and discovery, and while practice is key, engaging learners in the creativity math can provide is more important and can also be enhanced technologically.  A K-5 focused program that stands out is the suite of free math apps from The Math Learning Center. These web-based tools can be used on any device or computer and include features such as fraction representations, number lines, dot patterns, geoboards, pattern blocks, and money pieces. They are completely interactive and work well as a presentation tool or as a utility for learners to explore and discover. The intuitive interface makes it easy to implement into a mathematics classroom and reduces the need for physical manipulatives that can get lost or strewn about [Ed. Note- Yaaaay, SOLD!]. If you use number talks in your classroom, these apps will help you make an endless number of visual examples.

In the secondary classroom, the graphing calculator has monopolized the technology landscape since many current educators were students themselves. Standardized testing has helped maintain the need for an outdated handheld device that lacks connection to the internet  Fortunately, a free, online graphing calculator named Desmos is leading the charge to make this math technology more accessible to all students and more user friendly for teachers and students alike. Recently, CNN featured Desmos’s popularity in many math classrooms as well as its uptick as a potential replacement for the Texas Instruments TI-84 in standardized testing. Desmos is not only free on any device, the colorful, interactive interface makes the visual representations of mathematics more clear and understandable. In my mathematics classroom, when I give students a choice of the handheld graphing calculator or Desmos, most students prefer the ease of Desmos every time.  

While the graphing capabilities of Desmos is reason enough to give it a look, it also has a component called Activity Builder which allows teachers to create custom activities to engage students on specific topics in mathematics across all grade levels. On top of all that, Desmos also has a hoard of ready-made activities that allow students to collaborate, interact, and create while building a conceptual understanding of mathematical ideas and focusing on the Standards for Mathematical Practice outlined by the Common Core State Standards. For example, in Marble Slides, students manipulate equations and launch a series of marbles to collect stars in a creative, open-ended space. I have personally used many Activity Builder activities in my own classroom and have observed students develop a deeper level of engagement and understanding of mathematical ideas.

It is an exciting time for educators interested in mathematical technology for their classroom. Sorting through a barrage of fact-based apps that require memorization of procedures and processes might seem overwhelming at times. But it’s (almost) summer, and hopefully these suggestions have provided you a jumping off point for exploration in how these tools can work in your classroom with your students.  


Megan is a high school math teacher and math curriculum specialist in the northern suburbs of Minneapolis. She is interested in collaborating with other math teachers across the country via her work with the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the Math Twitter Blogosphere.  Megan blogs at mathybeagle.com and you can connect with her on Twitter @veganmathbeagle.

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