Educators Use Graphing Technology for Math

09/03/2009  |  REBEKAH BOYD
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A generation of students has used graphing calculators at home and in the classroom to get a better grasp on math. Now a new generation of graphing calculators is changing the way students are using these tools, making it easier to explore math in different ways. These innovative tools help students develop critical thinking skills and problem solving skills that will foster success in future mathematics classes.

Teachers who use graphing calculators regularly in the classroom are noticing that graphing calculators contribute to increased student achievement and student engagement. Teacher observations are being corroborated by research such as a 2003 study by A. J Ellington of the Virginia Commonwealth University. That paper concluded that effective teaching with graphing calculators is shown to help students develop a better understanding of mathematical concepts, use higher-level approaches to solving math problems, and score higher on performance measures.

Three times the learning

Alice Carson is a teacher who is seeing just that. The classroom veteran teaches Algebra 1, Honors Geometry and AP* Statistics at Karns High School in Knoxville, Tenn. With that much experience under her belt, she knows how hard some concepts are to teach and to learn.

Carson turns to TI-NspireTM technology as a tool to help students discover and learn core math concepts. The TI-Nspire handheld allows students to view multiple representations of a problem on a single screen.

For example, students can see an equation and its resulting graph on the same screen. As Carson’s students manipulate the problem, representations of equations, tables and graphs of the problem update in real-time, allowing the learner to see how the representations change as relationships change. With the device’s grab-and-move capability, students can move a graphed line and watch how the equation changes in response to the movement. As result, her students can learn about mathematical relationships and patterns in ways that aren’t possible with older graphing technology.

These features are important since Carson teaches three different courses and must use technology in a way that is appropriate for each level. In her Algebra 1 class, for example, she might ask students to find the line that best fits on a graph. Students can input their data and then graph the result. They can use the grab-and-move feature to move the line around and visually see why one line might be a better fit to the data than another. This discovery process leads to a deeper understanding of the math, Carson said.

“Allowing students to see how math works in real time while they interact with lines and graphs helps my students to remember the concepts longer,” she said.

Meanwhile in her geometry class, Carson uses the TI-Nspire handheld to teach concepts such as the sum of the interior angles of a polygon. For example, she might ask students to draw a pentagon and then to find the interior angles. Recalling concepts learned in algebra, students make ordered pairs and create a formula to find those interior angles. They then manipulate those angles to find relationships among ordered pairs.

“We took stuff they learned in algebra and turned it into something geometric,” she said. “You could see the light bulbs turning on all around the room.”

Carson noted that getting students excited about the technology didn’t take long. She said her students like features such as the ability to write fractions on the handheld so that they look the same as if they had written it out by hand.

“It took away the guess work,” she said.

TI-Nspire technology also takes away a lot of the “re-work” too, because students can save and edit their work in electronic documents. Students also can use the TI-Nspire device to take notes and store them for later study.

To make sure students are on track, homework and notes can be uploaded to the teacher’s classroom computer, allowing educators to track individual student progress by seeing step-by-step problem-solving techniques.

Graphing Technology for Many
Grade Levels

Many educators teach a variety of classes across multiple levels. Incorporating technology into each class can be a challenge. However, many teachers see the difference technology makes in their students’ grades and believe the extra time is worth the effort.

I am one of those teachers.

I teach math teacher at Johnson County High School in Mountain City, Tenn., where I teach multiple classes across multiple grade levels. I recently introduced the TI-Nspire handheld to my students, and I have a unique view of how TI-Nspire technology can make a difference in the classroom.

I previously taught eighth grade math, and this past year, some of my former students ended up in my Advanced Algebra class. Because we hadn’t used graphing calculators in previous years, some of my students weren’t as sharp in some math skills as they needed to be for this class. This created barriers to success.

To overcome those barriers, I developed student activities for the TI-Nspire handheld that were designed to help get these students up to speed.

By using the document to explore the concept, they soon realized “Oh, that’s how it works.” They now get concepts that they originally learned but didn’t truly understand. They also hold on to the knowledge better once they realize how it works.

Rebekah Boyd is a math teacher at Johnson County High School, Mountain City, Tenn. *AP is a trademark of the College Entrance Examination Board, which was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse, the TI-Nspire product.
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