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Re: education, technology & chat

On Tuesday 09 November 2004 3:27 pm, Peg Griffin wrote:

> What is the mathematics learning goal for the kids?

They were working on learning about polygons -- describing and making shapes 
-- following the TERC Geometry 1 topic.  One part of the math software that 
the children were using allows the children to click and drag polygons from a 
tool palette to fill in a line-drawing outline.   There is a similar 
"hands-on" activity ("activity" with a little "a", not the big "A" of CHAT) 
with plastic polygons to fill in an outline line drawing on paper worksheets 
-- copied from the TERC curriculum folder.  One thing I've observed, on the 
same day, is that the children are more facile with the hands-on building 
than with the computer, even though the computer constrains the possible ways 
that a shape can be rotated or flipped.  Hands-on there are endless 
possibilities, but the computer transformations require clicking on a 
transformation icon in the tool palette and then clicking on the shape to 
transform it.  If one gets it wrong, (s)he must select another transformation 
and reapply, whereas manually making transformations with the plastic blocks 
are done in split seconds. 

Another part of the math software shows a shape made of polygons when an icon 
resembling a set of eyeballs is clicked.  Then the children try to make the 
shape that they saw. Jane does a similar activity with the whole class using 
an overhead projector (it's one of the TERC lessons) showing a shape made of 
polygons for a few seconds, then hiding it and asking the children to draw 
what they see.  I've observed that the children are often tempted to draw 
while the shape is being shown, against the rules of the activity.  Jane asks 
them to put their pencils back down on the table until she hides the shape 
and then they can draw it.

 An "affordance" of minor interest in the software is that the children cannot 
be tempted as they can when sitting at tables looking at the overhead 
projection.  Since they are using the mouse, and the shape only appears when 
they click on the eyeballs, they cannot simultaneously see the shape they are 
trying to remember, while building their copy.  They can stop and peek, 
however, and then resume building.  An affordance more widely understood is 
that individuals working at computers can choose their own pace.  The 
computer activity does not require the pulsing out of rhythm by the teacher, 
which, with the overhead projector, often proceeds when the last child is 
ready.  I'm left with the impression that, over all, more student work gets 
done on this kind of activity at the computer.  I'd need to do some close 
tallying to support this claim, but it's not a claim that has any real 
significance, except perhaps for Jane's practice.  The flip side is that the 
teacher-directed overhead activity often results in minor but collective 
ebullitions across the tables as the teacher reveals the shape a second time 
so children can check their drawings.  There is a more salient emotional 
element involved with the teacher-directed activity than with the computer 

The TERC curriculum has been and continues to be hotly debated.  Here's a 
local article that came out today concerning a nearby school system, 
different from the one in which I'm observing,