Digital Learning

Next year, we’re going 1-to-1 with Chromebooks in my high school.  I’m a little worried that initiative overload will get in the way of creating meaningful experiences for our students to engage in.

My goals are to: (1) identify a limited number of specific topics in Algebra II and Precalculus that make sense to work within a digital framework, (2) find parts of my existing curriculum that make sense to digitize, (3) create meaningful activities for students to engage in digitally, and (4) share some of those experiences here.  I’d love for this to become both a place for my own reflection, and a source for other math teachers to find useful material.

I’ve spent a long time partially engaging in the math blogosphere–silently reading blogs, and occasionally trying to start my own blog, and quickly stopping.  It may be that this attempt follows suit, but my hope is that this time it sticks.

I’m writing this sitting at a PD session focused on using Google Apps, where we began with a discussion of “digital learning” vs. “digitized learning” (article here).  The authors describe “digitized learning” as essentially creating a digitized version of materials (i.e. textbooks, worksheets), and not transforming instruction or interaction with the digital medium. Textbook publishers are often guilty of marketing their exciting new digital books as groundbreaking, when most of what they have done is create a digitized version (think non-interactive) of a paper textbook.  “Digital learning” on the other hand is digital-native, that is, something created to exist and interact within the learning environment.  Look at the activities at, where students can play and interact while discovering important mathematical ideas.

While I tend to despise jargon – I think the distinction here is an important one.

There are times in the math classroom that digitizing is absolutely the right way to go.  I’ve got portfolio checklists, that when digitized become a paperless way for students to collect evidence of learning and send it my way.  I don’t need to create some kind of digital ecosystem for these to be useful–they serve the same function, in a prettier way than their paper counterparts.  Cool, yes.  Useful, yes.  Transformative? Not really.

On the other side are worlds that open up in the digital realm.  Using Marbleslides: Periodics, I can have my students explore graphs of trig functions in a lot more natural way than having to draw them by hand (they will do this too in my classroom, but not at first), or drawing them one at a time on a graphing calculator.  The digital environment provided by the wonderful desmos faculty creates a space where you can see transformations in trig functions, and discuss what you learn with your classmates in real-time.  As a teacher, I can create a hybrid activity, using nothing but the activity, and maybe a lab document asking students to create some kind of evidence for me, filled with screenshots, and descriptions of what they learned.

I think that there are places for this conceptualization of digitized learning, digital learning, and lots of paper and pencil (or pen) work in the math classroom.  It’s important to understand when you’re doing each, and figure out when it makes sense to create digitized/digital activities for student learning.

I do believe that math education can be enhanced and transformed by technology.

I don’t believe that the facelifts given to ‘traditional’ methods (reading textbooks, listening to lectures) are the epitome of what it means to be a modern student.

I hope my work and writing here can explore and expand the boundaries in my own thinking of math education.