Technology Is The Oxygen

Kate Nowak recommends you rethink your upcoming session, “20 Ways To Use Pinterest In The Classroom!”:

But when people talk to me about the technology I have to constantly Reframe the Issue and explain how I’m not all pro any technology for its own sake. You don’t go, “Oh here’s this cool technology let me shoehorn it into my classroom.” Instead you go, “I think I have thought of the best way to teach this, and it would be impossible in an analog world, but I know enough about the technologies to realize this idea.” You don’t go to a twenty-minute inservice about and go “I’m going to make an lesson.” You use for your own purposes, or you suspect its utility and put it in your back pocket, until your awesome instruction idea needs in order to exist. Your lesson is the fuel and is the oxygen.

BTW: I’m co-facilitating a workshop called “Technology Applications in Math and Science Classrooms” at Stanford this summer, July 30 through August 2. It’s open to the public. Registration information is at the bottom of this page.

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. Joe Henderson

    April 4, 2012 - 8:45 am -

    Right. I teach a class called “Technology in the Service of Science Education”. It used to be called “Integrating Technology in Science Education.” The shift is subtle, but important.

  2. I agree, but sometimes we do need to ask ourselves how we can use a technology in order to explore its possibilities. I wouldn’t know the possibilities of my ipad if I hadn’t tried to do things with it that weren’t necessarily required. In that process, I may have fallen on my face, but in turn discovered other greater uses that would have gone overlooked if I hadn’t looked at all.

  3. I agree with the sentiment, but I suspect reality may be more complex. I wouldn’t go to that talk, and I wouldn’t give that talk, but I could envision some people benefiting from it.

    Are you saying that everyone would benefit more from something else? (I’m open to that idea.) I guess I’m asking for an example of what you’d like to replace “20 ways to use Pinterest” with, and asking whether you think that type of replacement should be done to all “20 ways to use”-style presentations.

  4. There’s some benefit from just about everything. I’m saying, a gap-filling approach to technology (ie. “what gap will fill?”) will pay off limited dividends. I vibe to Kate’s line about using for your own purposes, working it into your own learning, and letting that inform your classroom use.

  5. I spent four years as a technology consultant for not-for-profits, and most of it was explaining exactly this concept. Glad to see it getting serious airtime!

  6. And curiosity is the spark! And relationships are the… glue…

    Hi Dave – I wrote this shortly after our district’s annual March Inservice Technology Fair. I don’t want to knock the fine folks who plan our PD; they’re trying to give the people what they want and do a very competent job organizing it. But after sitting through 20 minutes each on: Google Sketchup for Educators, Scratch for Educators, and, wait for it, Twitter for Educators, I am getting serious about a strict avoidance policy for these presentations. Scratch is super neato but the presenter suggested teachers use it to make animations for kids to watch – hunh? – I want to know how to get the kids juiced about doing the pseudo-programming. I have never tried a lesson where kids program something. I don’t have the first idea about how to integrate that. So I suppose what I would like to see, what would be helpful for me, is instead of 20 ways to use Pinterest in the Classroom, something like 5 Ways to Get Kids’ Hands On Coordinate Geometry Proofs. Show me a lesson that works better than what I’m doing without technology.

  7. This post (and comments) made me think about a theoretical framework developed at Michigan State University called TPACK. I’m specifically interested in the activity types work that has come from thinking about the connection between technology, content and pedagogy. I won’t attempt to explain it and instead post a link.

    Dan, Kate – are you familiar with these bodies of research? If so, how does it fit into your thought process on the role of technology, specifically in math education?

  8. As I read Dan Meyer’s original post, my brain recalled TPACK. Then I happened to look at the right side of this page and noticed Matt Townsley made a Recent Comment (hi Matt!). Matt and I heard Punya Mishra, Ph.D, from MSU speak about TPACK and the implications that technology has in the classroom.

    As I plan problem-based instruction tasks to share with audiences of classroom teachers, I always remember that Dr. Mishra made a statement parallel to what Dan Meyer is saying. In my words to summarize both educators, to use technology in a lesson is not about what you use, but about the pedagogy, content and technology that makes the lesson rich.

  9. I hate to write such a short post, but it’s simple: Using technology in the classroom should never be about the technology. Purposeful integration and placing the content first is the key to a more successful lesson.

  10. I think that a big problem is that a lot of money is being spent on new technologies without much input from teachers on whether or not they’ll use it. Our school has a brand new set of iPads which have basically sat in my classroom all year long because nobody is sure how to use them. There is certainly a lot of hype about the use of iPads in schools, which I’m sure is good for Apple’s sales, but I wonder how many other iPads are out there sitting in classrooms collecting dust.

  11. I agree with Nowaks approach. Then I turned to look at Stanfords summer course and was disappointed as it started with “In this workshop, participants will explore a range of technological tools,” etc. I wished it started with good education, like your 101 movies, and then would touch its application of technology.

  12. Kate, thank you for the last sentence of your comment! There is pressure for us to use technology in the classroom, but the heart of the lesson is still the lesson (the mathematics!) itself. A lousy lesson only gets “louder” with technology, not unlike speaking louder to an English learner hoping she’d get it.

    David, the iPad begs to be explored though. It comes loaded with goodies to play with. But to teach USING an iPad, that lesson must still come from you and your creativity.

    Nathan, we have teachers who have asked to have their interactive whiteboards REMOVED from their rooms because they didn’t know how or care to use them.

    Are we trying too hard to incorporate technology into our lessons instead of letting the lesson begs for the technology?

  13. I’m with Fawn: I totally agree with Kate’s comment that we need to find ways to improve what we’re doing with analogue means, or we risk the technology making bad math “louder”.

    How disappointing to hear of teachers wanting technology to be removed from their rooms. At least you could ask the students if they could think of some way to use the tech to learn math! I bet they could come up with some great ideas, given the chance.

    Meanwhile, in my day job teaching preservice teachers, we are pushing for them to find ways to integrate tech into their teaching in every subject. I’m convinced that’s the right direction, provided we address the issue of getting the teaching right first, then using tech to serve the needs of teaching and learning.

  14. As someone who asked for an IWB to be removed from my room, they are absolutely horrible. They encourage worst practices (staying close to the board instead of moving around the room, turning your back to the students, running through a presentation too quickly, not engaging students or only engaging a small number at a time). I use technology constantly, and I have yet to see IWBs used for anything that I would consider positive. The ones we got were almost $3,000 each, and a $200 wireless tablet (Wacom Bamboo is a good example) gives you all the capabilites and more (multi-touch) without all of the downsides.

  15. @Peter
    You sound like an evangelical “pushing your pre-service teachers to use technology because you are convinced it is the right direction”. If you can show me specific examples of how technology might enhance a lesson, great. If you can take the time to find out what I am trying to accomplish, the methods I am using, and how technology might help, even better.

    Why is it disappointing that a teacher might want technology removed from their room? Perhaps a giant computer screen (smart board) at the front of the room is a distraction and limits the use of the board space.

    You think it is realistic to expect students to come up with effective ways to use technology to learn math? Take a look through Dan’s 101Q site sometime. Teachers can’t even come up with original ways to incorporate this simple prompt method into their lessons. The vast majority of the submissions are copies of ideas already posted on this site – “how many …” or “how much time to…”

  16. I’m sorry to have upset a couple of people whom I respect. :(

    Perhaps it’s different in the US (I’m not being patronising here, just observing), but here in Australia ALL teachers (and therefore my student preservice teachers) are expected to actively help their school students to develop digital literacy, along with language literacy and numeracy.

    In our 4-year preservice courses for primary (elementary) and secondary teachers, there are multiple required subjects (I would estimate over 50%) in which students are asked to integrate ICTs (tech) in their planning and teaching practices, as core parts of their assessment. So even if I didn’t agree, I am required to teach this.

    Am I an “evangelist” for technology in the classroom? Absolutely, just as I am an evangelist for excellent use of questioning, “hands-on, minds-on” learning, problem solving, “real world” applications for what students learn (in math and in all other subjects); and use of the old-tech OHP, whiteboard, chalkboard, paper and pencils, butchers paper and crayons, physical manipulatives, etc., etc. My students know my passion for great teaching, and not being satisfied with mediocre, in any area of education.

    These are all tools, not panaceas, and each has its advantages and disadvantages. But I won’t be asking for useful resources to be removed from my classroom, even if I can’t right now think of a good way to use them.

    This weekend (and for another couple of weeks at least) I am writing specs for brand-new apps to help teachers to support their students in mathematical thinking and really learn mathematics, to be marketed through the Math Widgets website and brand. Will these IWB apps supplant textbooks? Of course not. Will they replace the need for an excellent teacher and a hundred other teaching tools? Give me a break. But I believe that these tools will add extra functionalities, not possible or feasible in an analogue form, that teachers will be able to find value in.

    To repeat: my apologies for any offence I’ve caused. But I won’t apologise for looking for new ways to reach my students and to engage them in every possible way with thinking deeply about what they are learning, for the future benefit of both the students, wider society and their communities.

  17. mr bombastic:

    Take a look through Dan’s 101Q site sometime. Teachers can’t even come up with original ways to incorporate this simple prompt method into their lessons. The vast majority of the submissions are copies of ideas already posted on this site – “how many …” or “how much time to…”

    Two things:

    1. This analysis doesn’t do justice to the different concepts and skills required to answer the questions, “How many?” and “How long?” The Top 10 page is rife with those questions but the math runs the gamut. It’s a feature, not a bug.

    2. No one complains about YouTube: “All you find there are videos on top of videos!” Or Flickr: “Why are these people just uploading photos?” These platforms are better suited for some material than others. 101questions may wind up just being a good source for imagery that provokes “how many?” and “how long?” questions that require a narrow subset of 6-12 math. That’ll suit me fine.