Teaching with tablets: Pedagogy driving technology, or technology driving pedagogy?

If you are a teacher, then you have probably experienced the introduction of a new technology into your classroom at some point in time. Whether it was an interactive whiteboard, laptops or tablets, it is likely that you would have felt some pressure to use that technology as much as possible because of the expense involved. Often teachers are expected to incorporate new technologies without the support of appropriate professional development. That is, professional development that not only addresses the technical aspects of the devices, but the pedagogical considerations as well.

My research into the use of iPads in primary classrooms has revealed that many teachers find it a challenge to use technology creatively to teach mathematics when compared to other subject areas. I believe that the way technology is used in mathematics lessons often reflects how the teacher views and understands mathematics and the curriculum. The teachers who see mathematics as a collection of facts and rules to be memorised often rely on a drill and practice approach, and therefore limit the use of technology to applications that support this method. The plethora of drill and practice apps now available on tablets help perpetuate this teaching method. On the other hand, teachers who see mathematics as a collection of big ideas that need to be applied to rich, contextual activities are the ones who use tablets and other technologies in more creative ways, steering away from the mathematics specific applications. Often during the drill and practice approach, the technology becomes the focus of the lesson. However, when rich tasks are involved, the focus remains on the learning and the technology is used as a tool to promote the learning, access and present information.

So how can you make your use of technology more meaningful in mathematics lessons? Frameworks are often helpful in encouraging teachers to reflect on their practices, and one that is a good starting point is the SAMR model of technology integration by Puentedura (2006). The model represents a series of levels of technology integration, beginning at the substitution level, where technology simply acts as a direct substitute for traditional practices, with no improvement. The second level, augmentation, provides some functional improvement – imagine the use of a maths game app that gives instant feedback. The feedback component is the improvement. At the third level, modification, the technology has allowed for significant redesign of existing tasks. The final level, redefinition, allows us to create new tasks that were previously inconceivable.

I believe that we should be pushing ourselves to aim for the redefinition level of SAMR, however, this does not mean that technology should not be used at the lower levels. The most important thing to remember is that you must not let the technology determine the pedagogy – it should be the other way around, where the pedagogy is driving the technology. Another thing to think about is that no framework is perfect. Although the SAMR model is a good starting point, a major flaw is that it assumes that any use of technology is going to enhance teaching and learning. I disagree. I have seen lessons where the technology distracts students, and the focus is no longer on the mathematics: it’s on the technology. Technology driving pedagogy.

Apart from adding a ‘distraction’ level to SAMR, I would also like to suggest that consideration of student engagement sits as a backdrop behind the entire model. I would also want to consider how the proficiencies (Working Mathematically) align with the model. In the graphic below you will see that I have made some additions to SAMR, suggesting that the lower levels of the model align with the proficiency of fluency, and as you progress through the model, more proficiencies are added so that tasks that move beyond drill and practice promote understanding, problem solving and reasoning.

From: Engaging  Maths: iPad activities for teaching and learning, Attard, 2015.
From: Engaging Maths: iPad activities for teaching and learning, Attard, 2015.

This adapted model can be used as a tool to help plan and design tasks and activities that incorporate technology. On the other hand, it might help you make the decision to not use technology! Resist the temptation to use devices simply because you feel you have to – if it doesn’t enhance teaching and learning, don’t use it. If you are going to use those drill and practice type apps, then make sure they are embedded in good teaching – always include rich reflection prompts that provide children with the opportunity to talk about the mathematics involved in the task, the problems and challenges they encountered, and ways they can improve their learning. Remember, don’t let the technology drive the pedagogy – mathematics and learning should always be the focus!

Attard, C. (2015). Engaging maths: iPad activities for teaching and learning. Sydney: Modern Teaching Aids.
Puentedura, R. (2006). SAMR.   Retrieved July 16, 2013, from www.hippasus.com

2 thoughts on “Teaching with tablets: Pedagogy driving technology, or technology driving pedagogy?”

  1. I am of the position that the reason iPads do not work with Mathematics generally is the lack of a sufficiently mature non-lingusitic input tool. While gesture, touch and stylus inputs do exist, they typically are not sufficient for the needs of teachers teaching mathematics. Whereas you don’t see so many issues with devices with, say, an active stylus (e.g. the surface). So perhaps you need a technology answer to a teaching and learning problem. Alternatively – try Googling a Rocketbook!

    Happy to show you some of the work I’ve been doing here in this area!


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