I Can’t Do This

In an astonishingly wise appropriation of tech funds, my district is paying its own teachers to conduct tech seminars for other teachers. I signed up for a block of three tutorials on maximizing digital projector use in the classroom. I have way too much material for this workshop.

But my district’s curriculum coordinator assigned me a workshop called “Web 2.0 for Mathematics Instruction” unaware that my c.v. here is positively larded with skepticism about this place where your Internets and my Maths coincide, a place which you have sworn exists. I have no material for this workshop.

Neither, apparently, do the ed-tech institutions. Vicki Davis retweeted this from Dianne Krause the other day:

Leigh Ann Sudol’s response, that this blog represents some kind of coincidence of Web 2.0 and math, is even more disconcerting:

Far from representing the read-write web’s effect on math instruction, this blog remains perpetually befuddled by it.

So before I cancel this workshop (for which I never volunteered in the first place) I’ll put Vicki and Dianne’s question out here: does anybody have any examples of Web 2.0 technology transforming math instruction?

I’m particularly interested in methods specific to math. Tell me my students can collaborate over a conceptual wiki, or Skype with another country over project-based learning, or blog their class notes, and you’ll find my attention wandering. These techniques could enhance a class on auto repair, I realize, but the farther you wander away from the liberal arts towards my room, the more their returns diminish.


Though Scott has yet to release his 2008 survey of the edublogosphere (which *cough* will only be a year outdated this January) I have seen some of the early infographs and they confirm that the loudest voices on the matter of ed-tech don’t teach and, furthermore, don’t teach math:

Time was, I’d recommend Darren Kuropatwa as the go-to guy for math instruction using read-write technology but I pay my taxes more often than he blogs.

So where are the Web 2.0-enabled math teacher bloggers?

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. Dan,
    For actively instructing Maths I’m at as much of a loss as you. As you mentioned, blogs / wikis etc obviously have their uses, but haven’t fundamentally changed the way I deliver Maths (and with the continual battle I have to get anything unblocked and working in school, even these tend to fall on their face after a while).

    Maybe I can suggest using google forms for data collection?
    http://tbarrett.edublogs.org/2008/02/10/using-google-forms-in-the-classroom/ Not sure if statistics is taught with Math in the US?

    So, little help I’m afraid. But on a side note I think you will enjoy an ex-colleague’s new blog: http://mrhillmaths.edublogs.org/


  2. The biggest mathematical use for web 2.0 is in analytics/statistical analysis. Web 2.0 is a treasure trove of raw data, available for patterns to be found in.

    What corollaries can be found in last.fm data? What do most people listen to at most times of day? etc.

    Of course, there’s all sorts of data to be found at other places as well… web 2.0 can certainly be used in units about pattern-finding, statistical analysis, and of course graphical analysis.

    I have to admit: math is _integral_ to the building of web 2.0 but doesn’t profit much from it. (Math is now the only subject where I ever touch a pencil/paper)

  3. I think there’s potential for math instruction benefitting from web 2.0, but it hasn’t been realized yet. I look at wikipedia, and it has tons of math content and equations, but it’s not quite accessible enough to turn it loose in the classroom. How cool would it be to have animated or interactive equation manipulation or derivations? There’s definitely potential for making algebraic processes more transparent and even interactive.

    Make algebra more like a video game. Give it a nicer interface. Cancel out terms on top and bottom with your finger on a touch screen and animate as they disappear. If the right interface were made for this, it could instruct the mechanics of how algebra works.

    In short, I think there’s unrealized potential there.

  4. on another note, who told you that math and web2.0 HAVE to go together?

    you use a projector.
    you use Keynote (may I presume you archive these for your students?)

    i smell technology. and it existed long before 2.0. maybe even before 1.0. in beta.

  5. Time was, I’d recommend Darren Kuropatwa as the go-to guy for math instruction using read-write technology but I pay my taxes more often than he blogs.

    Ouch. But, of course, you’re right. ;-)

    For what it’s worth, I’m not so sure there’s such a thing as a discipline (math) specific “set of tools” that you can just plug and play. With that said here are some of the things I do (when I’m not on parental leave):

    The Class Blog …

    – aggregates student generated content which includes daily student summaries of what they are learning (I know, I know; you didn’t want to hear this one)

    – aggregates daily class notes (archived on slideshare with worked examples by teacher and students (mostly students) including all errors and corrections.

    – aggregates youtube video archive of relevant instructional or review material (look down the right hand sidebar about halfway down this page).

    – aggregates del.icio.us bookmarks vetted and contributed by students; each student contributes 1 BM/Unit of study (keep looking down the sidebar of that page)

    – aggregates digital photo assignments, group work with solutions and student commentary, and links to other class archives of content (wiki solution manuals, summative digital projects, and anything else we happen to create over our time learning together.

    The blog is the hub. There’s a lot more going on than blogging their class notes.

    I hope some of these ideas/links are helpful to you. I look forward to one day chatting with you f2f over a cup of coffee … or better yet, a beer.


  6. Consider this as an appendix to my previous comment, I just did a search for interactive algebra and found a prototype of some approaches that could work if made into 2.0 tools.

    Interactive algebra — equations, factoring and graphing. This just needs some ajax to bring it out of the late 90’s and into web 2.0

    Mathsnet: interactive algebra — there’s quite a few algebra concepts here, better than the first link, but still room for improvement.

    NLVM — check out the algebra balance scales in particular.

  7. As I lurk here to see where this discussion unfolds, I wonder about a future podcast with Dan and Darren, not to debate, because I’m not seeing a controversy, but as two outstanding, passionate educators talking about how Math, as likely the most elusive discipline as it relates to the interweb, is supported by the interweb. That’s a really lousy way of saying, let’s talk.

  8. Dan I hear you on this. I had my annual “goals” meeting with my principal last week. He spent the entire hour telling me that he saw me moving into a position of “technology leadership” in the building. He wants to send me to an edutech conference this month. I looked through the sessions. Its all wiki’s blogs, and moodle, etc. Frankly I’m not interested and don’t see these improving my ability to teach math.

    I use a setup similar to yours (although I use a tablet PC + projector combo). I’m also a strong proponent of direct instruction and I only use technology when its benefit clearly outweighs the flash. I traded my clickers to another teacher for a set of small whiteboards & dry erase markers. Much more efficient in my view.

    I don’t know how to tell the principal that I’m not the web 2.0 messiah he thinks I am.

  9. I never believe in walking away from a conversation, so to answer the question of canceling, I’d vote no. Just because the title says Web 2.0 and Math doesn’t mean you have to be a cheerleader. I think there is a lot of hype-busting that other teachers need to hear, and you are just the guy to do it.

    Or simply ignore the precise meaning of web 2.0 – most presenters do anyway. People just think it means technology or the Internet, so why be pedantic about the definition? Show people what you do with tech and why you think it’s important. Who cares if it’s not exactly web 2.0.

  10. This makes me chuckle like the time a year or two ago when somehow you’d volunteered to lead a staff development session on Moodle….!

  11. I think Sylvia nailed it. There are a ton of people who hear Web 2.0 and say, Internet, oh. Dan’s our guy.

    Because a lot of our colleagues are still working on bringing any technology into the classrooms. Honestly, Number Munchers is more advanced than what I use somedays. Or, at least, what my students use.

    Because I haven’t done a good job of enabling them to use the technology. Darren, thanks for all your suggestions and links. I’m feeling inspired, but still uncertain of how I’ll pull any of this off at my school.

    And I promise, I’ll listen to the podcast as faithfully as I watched the videos this summer. (Which have all been viewed and recommended to new teachers.)

  12. Well. This is really not the same thing as high school algebra, because face it, mathematics graduate students have really already bought into the idea that they should be spending loads of time on math in a way that it would be absurd to expect from high school students.

    But one of my classes this term does have a tremendously useful blog! (That’s web 2.0, right?) It’s predicated around the idea that we’re all in small groups, and we’re supposed to share (in generally condensed form) whatever we learn with the rest of the class using the blog (and one group presents in actual class time per week.) Yeah, this is like no high school math class I’ve ever heard of, and I see no particular reason why it should be.

    Technically it’s math education, though. At math448.wordpress.com if you want a look.

  13. We’re luckier than most: my grade 10 and grade 11 classes just got tablet PCs with the entire high school having them next year. So….

    I’ve got students creating screencast movies using OneNote and Cam Studio. Every unit, each student makes one or two “tutorials” to share with their classmates. The next step is to create a linked video library on our school-based wiki (it’s all internal unfortunately so no outside access) that students can use to prepare for tests and revise for final exams…

    Last year, I did a similar thing (on a much smaller scale, obviously) with my grade 9s and 1 tablet. Group them in pairs, give them an appropriately difficult word problem, have them solve it, write a ‘script’, make a screencast. I then let the students access those movies via a couple of laptops during the unit test as ‘notes’.

  14. Obliged for the ideas and resources (however heavily draw upon Statistics for inspiration) and to Darren for breaking his blog-fast for this. He may have disregarded the prompt (for math-specific techniques) but he brings the volume.

    My point in all this is that Darren’s techniques actually meet ELA standards whereas they act only as assessments for math standards. Where is the collaborative tool (like blogging) that meets math standards without also invoking a time cost (which ELA doesn’t suffer). These read-write web activities get expensive for math in ways they don’t for other courses.

    I could bluff my way through “Web 2.0 for Education” using notes I cribbed from all of you guys. “Web 2.0 for Math Education” is a stretch.

  15. None of this, by the way, is to suggest that mathematics pedagogy doesn’t need to upgrade itself along with the rest of the school. This blog would be unrecognizable, I suspect, if I taught anything but math.

  16. Guessing that emphasis on math standards cycles back through Feltron and the frustration of Geometry results?

    We’re all needing to focus so much on our specific standards, but the tech standards aren’t happening. At least one English teacher at my school is just having students hand in handwritten copies of essays, because she can’t justify the time it takes to type, never mind format, magazine-style articles. No answers here, just the observations and questioning how much we’re really preparing students for life beyond our walls.

  17. I would love to use the Internet to help teach math concepts. However, many students would rather be on MySpace or Facebook or some other non-academic related site. Does this have something to do with technological maturity?

    Additionally, it is nearly impossible to use any kind of technology for my students, because so many don’t have computer competency, though they text message a lot and are on the Internet a lot and some know how to bypass the school’s Internet content filter. Bottom line, I have found that I spend too much time teaching HOW to USE the technology rather than teaching how to use the technology to HELP us LEARN math.

    Perhaps we need to teach our students how to look for patterns in life and on the Internet and how to ask deep quality questions that they can apply the math they learn to help answer those questions. Besides, is that not what Mathematicians do?

  18. Use Jing to introduce the technology and the students can take it from there. As far as using technology to improve the teaching of mathematics, there’s got to more effective ways. I look forward to finding them and developing some myself.

  19. I’m going to coattail Sylvia, and push it a couple of steps past.

    Is there anywhere that says “Web 2.0 for Mathematics Instruction” has to be a positive cheerleading of the state of the art?

    You’ve done prime work in learning how to decide whether a particular pedagogical technique is worth your time. You’ve used computers, both as presentation tool and as research device, as well as having decided against them in favor of goldfish or pipe cleaners for other lessons. You have a decent and ever expanding rubric for deciding how something will be an effective teaching tool for you. You probably also have an idea of how you’d like to be able to use Web 2.0, should the reality ever catch up to your dreams.

    There is more than enough material in there to make a badass presentation that will have teachers thinking for themselves, rather than some lame shoehorning of Twitter into a math curriculum.

  20. I echo Sylvia.

    Tell YOUR story as a math instructor ‘in search’ of that answer without drinking blindly from the Kool Aid. Be honest. Hold back nothing. And knock down 90% of the obvious red tech herrings in the first 5 min before anyone gets restless.

  21. @Sarah Thanks for the kind words.

    @Dan What do you mean by the (web 2.0) “collaborative tool that meets math standards”? I suppose I could rattle off a list of web based math tools but others have preceded me at that. Could I rattle off a few more? Maybe, but just go digging in my del.icio.us bucket and poke around my stuff labeled “tools” or “math” (probably both) and you can add them to your own bucket as well.

    In my view, web 2.0 is soylent green, not a bunch of tools. (Nod to Cole Camplese for the analogy.)

    Dan, you comment that my techniques can only be used for assessment. Is assessment somehow distinct and separate from teaching and learning? How do you draw fine lines between those things? Ideally assessments sould entail learning as well. No?

    @Dean Might be a fun podcast to do. ;-)

  22. My former superintendent would often paraphrase a quote he heard at a conference, here’s my best paraphrasing of the same quote… “The best way to improve student performance is through teacher collaboration.” So maybe that is the answer in the math classroom, your site provides the opportunity for that collaboration.

  23. Dan,

    While I am impressed that you quoted me, I was using you more as an example of web 2.0 in math staff development (which is why your media posts are perfect examples).

    For your students, I think Math is a subject that has two things preventing it from fully being a part of the web 2.0 education movement.

    First: Its not easy to do math with just a keyboard. Give every student a tablet PC and the ability to annotate on top of an image or within a workspace and then we can talk about activities.

    Secondly: Its one of the subjects where communication with outside sources really doesnt add much enrichment to the learning. Yes you can find cool examples, but once that example is solved, its done. Theres no thread of conversation at the level that most teachers do math. (I’m not sure if this applies entirely to you – but I will bet that many teachers do not use a math problem to start a week long conversation where at the end several people are right)

    One of the topics that I would love to see enter into HS math is some of the probability and statistics that come from computer science – especially machine learning. If I give you a data set and “code” a series of the information (provide a category based upon the data). You then try and learn a rule that will code future pieces of data. hmm.. Maybe I’ll write this up and share it.

    But I think that with math especially the immediate feedback is more important than the distant expert.

  24. @Leigh Ann, thanks for clarifying. 140 characters rarely does anyone justice.

    It’s not insignificant to me that you’re exploring Web 2.0 in the arenas of statistics and compsci. So what of algebra, which I’ll go ahead and dub the most abstract concept a student will learn in high school, one which additionally requires syntax too complicated for traditional keyboarding? Where does Internet collaboration figure?

    So what I’m saying to Darren is that while blogs and wikis represent simple substitutions for existing ELA standards (resulting in no net time loss and a net gain for 21st century learning) they don’t fit math standards anywhere near that cheaply.

    And Darren‘s techniques get really expensive (in time and now in money) if your students don’t have computer or Internet access at home. Which, whatever Pink & Friedman & whoever else you’ve read has told you, isn’t a safe assumption for a lot of teachers.

  25. Does anyone remember the Math Forum? When I was in college I was one of the Math Doctors – Students would email the service with questions and the collection of Math Doctors would be able to pick and choose the questions to answer.

    There is great education research that shows students learn complex thinking skills and challenging topics best by practice and teaching the topics to others. What about creating a homework help site? Students asking questions are not allowed to post the exact problem from the homework – must change the numbers around, and helpers are not allowed to give the solution but only next steps in the process.

    The rules of interaction here will define this a particularly suited for math.

  26. I think that jeremy in Comment #28 answers your question perfectly Dan!

    Frame your talk along the lines of what doesn’t work for you (wikis, twitter, whatever) and then what does work – teacher collaboration.

    After all, isn’t the biggest problem TEACHER ignorance of technology?

    I spent this summer reading the archives of your blog and about 10 other math ed blogs, and the posts and discussions (especially discussions) helped me so much to prepare for this first year. They made me think about professionalism, ethics, things to try and not to try, comfort that other people have the same problems and fears, ideas for activities and worksheets that I modified, etc.

    If you teach these teachers about a couple of web applications, they will go home and AT MOST use those 2 applications in the next year.

    If you teach these teachers about the edublogosphere, they can go home and just start reading blogs. Its far less intimidating than trying something new in your class, and slowly they can learn a million new things and incorporate them at their own pace and with their own judgement.

    Tell them about your blog and others you respect and find valuable. Show them some of the best things you’ve found on the web. Then show them that you have made a post on your blog with links to your recommendations so that during a spare 10 minutes they can go to that post and start clicking around and talking to other teachers about pedagogy.

    You can use this opportunity to connect them to thoughtful education blogs and forums, whereas someone else might use it to teach them about This Cool New Thing Called Wikis. Please reconsider canceling.

  27. @Dan: I’m not convinced. How does this meet more of an ELA standard than it does a mathematics standard? Even for struggling learners how can this be more of an ELA assessment than a mathematics assessment?

    As for the “cost” vis a vis access to computers and the internet at home, I teach in an urban inner city school. Almost all kids have computers at home but there are always those that don’t. So, as a public school, it is our responsibility to provide equal opportunity at school for all students to achieve and get the same quality of education. I’ve often had students use my classroom computer to do their assignments and they use the school computers in the library or computer labs. It’s doable. Very doable.

    From what I’ve seen happening in my school, and what I’ve been doing with my students for several years now, the concerns you raise here haven’t materialized.

  28. Dan, I hear what you’re saying – I teach a wide variety of classes, and while I would love to bring web 2.0 to them in the same way, there are certainly many new media tools that are far more suited to History than Science. Even Science has a writing and content-area reading component, so I can bluff my way into using wikis, blogs and podcasts for that. I can’t imagine trying to shoehorn Math/Algebra into what is, let’s face it, a writing exercise.

  29. The ELA standards break down into strands of reading, writing, and speaking, which is a like a 1-to-1 correspondence between blog-reading, blog-writing, and podcasting. I’m still trying to find the same correspondence in math.

  30. Oh, BTW, the only way I found this was searching my name, if you’ll link my name to my blog, I’ll be faster in responding as I often don’t take the time to search my name (about once a month) to respond to edublogospherians!!! ;-)

    Thanks for a great blog!