Light Offerings

Can digital technology add value to school education? A practical mathematical insight.

Posted by jturner56 on May 3, 2015

While pondering this question I came across this recent comment from a Columbia University academic:

Education technology is not yet a proven solution for learning, and limits the experience of education and human interaction

Of course, I could defer to alternative realities such as the Maker Movement as the latest iteration of constructivist thinking, with its call to simply change the dynamic of learning interactions. I have spoken elsewhere about value, beliefs and systemic limitation, so here am more interested in realities.

In my travels I was drawn to this from James Bosco of Western Michigan University, who in the forward to Kathryn Moyle’s (2010) Building Innovation: Learning with Technologies, points to

“the fostering of creativity and self-directed learning occurs when students are given tasks or problems that challenge them to ‘think outside the box’ and to ‘own the problem’.”

This encapsulates what for many years I have been involved in trying to do, embed and connect.

The latest insight came this past week.

First, a discussion on the use of Minecraft within Grades 4-6 to develop mathematical understanding of space and measurement. The mathematical value of Minecraft has been increasingly documented. Second, the limited transferal by some of these students when taking on 3D-Printing. Thirdly, a Grade 8 packaging project, where students used mathematical thinking and SketchUp computer modeling to create their own authentic package.

  FullSizeRender(1)  FSR3  sku   FullSizeRender
 Minecraft Student village  Mathematical modeling SketchUp Package model with design   Final student constructed packages

What I noticed was

  • the high level of learning engagement across both projects, evident in student commitment to personal ownership, diversity of choice, peer interactions, curriculum value and teacher interactions
  • “experience” with Minecraft not adequately preparing students for efficiently taking on the mathematical aspects of 3D printing.
  • the teacher’s crucial role in bridging as questioner, technical adviser and fellow learner
  • the fragmented thinking in uniting disparate digital-based projects (although this insight arose from an attempt to better connect to enable development of deeper learning opportunities)

The strong mathematical links made me think: Should we be better educating students to understand  the mathematical relationships between digital and physical space?

I had encountered a similar experience twenty years ago when researching the relationship between programming and mathematical thinking in school conditions. It seems we still have a way to go to value higher order thinking in Mathematics when it comes to digital spaces (and digital thinking). Yet this is a domain where employment and creative opportunities are growing.

So we continue to face

  • Should digital technology be adding value to school education?
    Yes, but it is a complex relationship requiring more than absolutist thinking
  • How can digital technology add value to school education?
    Depends on what is valued, by whom, and in what ways.
  • Does digital technology add value to school education?
    Depends on what learning environments are supported, and in what ways.

The quest goes on.

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