How can laptops for every high school student be beneficial?
July 10, 2010 5:43 AM   Subscribe

I am a teacher at a high school that will be providing netbooks to every single student this fall. I am trying to consider ways that this will be helpful in the classroom, particularly in a math classroom. If you knew that every child in the classroom had their own netbook and the classroom were wireless, what would you like to see happen that would help students learn math? Please fire away ideas. All are welcome - whether brainstorm ideas or maybe you know of a particular website or web-based tool that would help students. Particularly, I'd like to assess students' progress as they learn as well as to provide them multiple ways to learn/experience the fundamental concepts in a math course. What would YOU have wanted if you had a laptop and wireless in high school? Thanks for your suggestions!!!
posted by mathmatters to Education (21 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
If you an find a good graphic calculator app, that would be very helpful.
posted by mkb at 6:25 AM on July 10, 2010

Instant pop quizzes via Google Forms+Spreadsheets. You get the benefits of instant feedback to measure how well the class is understanding concepts you are presenting, and you can make the lecture more interactive without embarrassing shy/poor students.
posted by onalark at 6:39 AM on July 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you don't already know about Google's calculator+conversions, or Wolfram Alpha, they are pretty amazing as well. I would have killed for Wolfram Alpha's functionality when I was in high school and college.
posted by onalark at 6:42 AM on July 10, 2010

Mathematica. I had this in high school, and it's a great tool for helping you understand how math works; change the input, watch the output change. When you do things by hand, you don't have time to experiment. When you let the computer handle the grunt work, you can experiment enough to develop real understanding of the underlying mathematics.

(But if your curriculum isn't setup for experimental mathematics teaching, then a netbook isn't going to be enough.)
posted by jrockway at 7:00 AM on July 10, 2010

How about learning some SSPS and Statistics? I didn't take stats at my high school but I'm pretty sure they didn't use the computer at all. Or just basic stats. I remember learning basic stats in my 11th grade algebra class; learning something about SPSS would have been neato.
posted by tweedle at 7:22 AM on July 10, 2010

Graphing calculator software. Online tutorials with images and maybe explanatory animations. Especially for stats. It would have been a lot cooler to program formulas and have it shown on a large, full-color screen instead of a tiny, LCD calculator screen.
posted by ishotjr at 7:25 AM on July 10, 2010

In college calculus classes we used Maple (warning--audio on link). I found it really a useful aid to visualize in mathematical space.

If you're on a budget for software, has some free-as-in-beer open source software that claims to be competitive with Maple, Matlab and, well, R is already open.

The site might be useful too.

As far as what to DO with these programs, depending on what level you're teaching, you can probably find lots of labs on University websites and via the software itself.
posted by ista at 7:31 AM on July 10, 2010

I know nothing about Math or Computers, but since you're asking I thought I'd add my two cents.

When I was in High School I hated Math. Most of the problem was that I couldn't see any real world applications. Yeah, we did lots of word problems that were supposed to show us 'real' applications. Yeah, all the teachers would give us generic answers like "You need Math to go to college!" or "Engineers use Math!" Well, I was an artistically leaning kid who had no plans to actually go to college. If I'd had a teacher who showed every day situations that actually made sense to me it would have been a lot easier for me to wrap my head around the numbers.

I don't know what kind of kids go to the school you teach at but if you could find out what they do outside of school and find ways that knowing the math will help make their lives easier I think you'll have a more captive audience. I think if you take them to real world sites and show examples of what Math the site uses it might resonate with them. Not just computer site math, but if you're at a site for a particular Music Icon then show how that person would need to use math. Maybe for figuring out how much a tour would cost or how many albums they'll need to sell to be able to afford that awesome car. Then how much they'll need for upkeep. I could see looking up tour dates to see how many shows will be played, then looking up prices for the car, then researching how much it costs to keep the car in working order.

I don't know, I'm just throwing things out there. It's been a long time since I was in High School, I could be really outdated. I just had a bad experience and I'd like to help you make it better for the kids you have.
posted by TooFewShoes at 8:00 AM on July 10, 2010

They'd be great for any kind of speed/memory drills (the kind of thing you study with flashcards). I had a math teacher in high school who gave two-minute quizzes on the Greek alphabet, formulas, etc so that the language of math became automatic and we could focus on the problem, not the format.

I also agree with TooFewShoes above- only not only do examples like that one keep interest, it helps put the concepts into a context students can grasp. I had a lot of trouble making the connections between things, and struggled with having to try and learn what seemed to be dozens of completely unrelated concepts. Plus they could put "Music Industry Financial Planner" on their CV ;)

You sound like a great teacher by the way, students are fortunate to have someone who puts this kind of thought into how to deliver curriculum.
posted by variella at 8:09 AM on July 10, 2010

Seconding mathy apps like Matlab or Octave.

Perhaps POVray for a bit of fun - get them to render conics or other parameterised functions that define surfaces in R3.

I would advocate that every student needs access to a compiler but that kind of thing is a bit outside the purview of your average HS math curriculum.
posted by polyglot at 8:09 AM on July 10, 2010

You can show them things like this visualization of the Pythagorean theorem.
posted by Obscure Reference at 8:10 AM on July 10, 2010

What sort of technology have you used in the classroom previously? Has your department and/or grade team talked about how to use the laptops in the classroom?

Illuminations from the NCTM ( is a good resource. I've had limited experience with Agile Mind (, but it seems helpful.

Also, if you have a SMARTBoard, students could create math presentations (problem solving -- what they tried, what worked, what didn't, new concepts that they've been researching, a math project they've been working on, etc), connect them to the board, and give the presentation easily.
posted by wiskunde at 8:30 AM on July 10, 2010

Hi, fellow math teacher here. What curriculum are you using? Most publishers have online resources that include online quizzes and demos. You may also be familiar with "ActiveMath", which gives kids adaptive problem sets, and instant feedback on misconceptions. You should also check out the dy/dan blog (which was on the blue a month or two ago). He's got some great ideas about real-life, web-based math activities.

I don't have a netbook for each student, but when I do have access to a class set of computers, I will often have students deal with data sets in Excel. I think it's pretty useful to be able to use formulas to transform data sets, and to do very basic stats.

Memail me if you want to talk more about teaching math!
posted by shrabster at 8:38 AM on July 10, 2010

I'd also (if you have the budget for it) recommend sketchpad. I'm not good with it myself, but I've seen some amazing things done with it, both looking at geometry and using it for aspects of algebra/trig/etc.
posted by Hactar at 8:47 AM on July 10, 2010

I sent this question to a friend who is working in the field of integrating tech into education and he sent this, somewhat harsh, response. Hope it helps some.

"I would urge this teacher to NEVER MAKE DECISIONS TO INTEGRATE TECHNOLOGY IN THE CLASSROOM WITHOUT CLEAR GOALS AND OBJECTIVES. If he doesn't have the technology seamlessly integrated into his lesson design, then the research says the technology will fail and could even decrease achievement rates. If he's willing to do the work to integrate the lessons completely, or create complete "laptop" lessons, then technology is a great way to differentiate instruction by giving the teacher the ability to assign different tech based tasks based on instructional level.

Here's a good resource for interactive instruction

Technology is a very powerful tool, but it sounds like this teacher is going to jump on the bandwagon without a specific plan, flounder with the tech, and hurt his students. He needs concrete, backwards designed units that integrate technology in order to be effective."
posted by elationfoundation at 10:49 AM on July 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm several hours late on this, but if you're still looking...

There are some great ideas and links above. I just wanted to warn about the use of computers to actually dumb-down mathematics. I would urge you to use some of the ideas above that utilize the computers as accessories and compliments to instruction, not as calculators-on-steroids by allowing the use of things like Wolfram-Alpha in the classroom. The idea is to maybe educate a new generation of math brains that can actually DO math as opposed to knowing how to find an answer. Big difference.

Good luck!
posted by Gerard Sorme at 2:25 PM on July 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

I personally feel that the strengths of computers in mathematics are visualization and play.

Visualization because one of the biggest barriers to learning math is notation. If the picture is in one's head, getting the notation in there is much easier.

Play because it is the most natural form of learning, and it is fun. If we can move stuff around on the computer screen and see how other parts change, it allows one to unconsciously learn while simultaneously demonstrating the relevance of the concepts.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 2:57 PM on July 10, 2010

* computers as tools for learning mathematics
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 2:58 PM on July 10, 2010

Just wanted to add an agreement with elationfoundation's friend. I also work in high school educational technology integration. Sometimes (okay, many times) the administrative powers in a district will buy some awesome new technology and tell teachers to use it but won't have any idea as to how teachers can/will/should use it and won't provide any extra support/training/ideas for the teachers.


- As stated above, set clear goals and objectives for integrating the technology.

- Don't be afraid to go slowly and deliberately. You do not have to become Netbook Super Teacher right away. Even though some other teachers will try, and some short-sighted administrators will hold them up as role models, resist the urge. Just pick one or two ways you can integrate the netbooks throughout the year. For example, you mentioned tracking student progress and providing multiple ways to learn fundamental concepts. These are good! So now, as you go through the year, work in one or two netbook activities per unit or topic. One of these can be a short formative assessment to check on students' progress. The other can be a web resource/activity that reviews the concepts, ideally in a slightly different way than you do it, so the student gets another view. Next summer you can evaluate how these went and then change/add as you see fit.

- For the first semester (and maybe the entire first year), don't schedule any netbook activity that is absolutely crucial to your students' understanding of the topic. The first semester/year will be a learning time for everyone and will require a lot of extra time and troubleshooting. This is another reason I think the goals above (progress assessment and topic review) are good-- they are not the foundation of the course.

- If at all possible, set up some kind of group with other math teachers in your school or district to share resources, lesson/activity plans, and your discoveries about best practices. If you have Blackboard, Moodle, or some other LMS, get yourselves some space on there to post and share your work. You didn't mention any kind of district support/sample lessons, so you and your colleagues may be on your own for this.

For a specific resource, check out Khan Academy. The site has teaching videos from arithmetic all the way through linear algebra and differential equations. These could be good topic reviews for your students. There are also economics and finance sections that could provide real-world applications. And share this site with your colleagues who teach science and business/econ-- they will thank you!
posted by scarnato at 3:41 PM on July 10, 2010

Wolfram Alpha is awesome. Not only does it give you the answers to math problems, but when you click "Show Steps" then it shows you step-by-step the process of getting to the answer. It helps me immensely on my calculus homework when I get stuck.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:07 AM on July 11, 2010

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