Maybe we need to think of it as teachnology rather than technology.

The time with our learners is limited.  We have to make some very important decisions about how to use this time.  We must consider the economics of our decisions based on the resources we have.  Is it cost effective, cognitively, to spend multiple days on a learning target to master something that a machine will do for us?   

 Is what we label as problem-solving and critical thinking really problem-solving and critical thinking or is it just harder stuff to deal with?  Can we teach problem-solving and critical thinking in the absence of context?

Do we have a common understanding of what good problem solvers and critical thinkers look like, sound like, and think like?  If we are teaching problem-solving, critical thinking, and creativity, shouldn’t we know what that means to us?  Shouldn’t we be able to describe it?

Does technology hamper or enhance a learner’s ability to problem solve and think critically?  I think I might be back to the struggle of using calculators to compute and a spell checker to write.  Do we even know enough to make a decision about technology until we experiment and learn by doing? 

If you have not read Can Texting Help Teens with Writing and Spelling? by Bill Ferriter, stop reading this right now to read Bill’s post.  It is a great example of leveraging technology to promote creativity and critical thinking using technology.  Read about having students write 25 word stories.  This is teachnology, not technology.  Tweet, text, type, write on paper – it doesn’t matter – unless you want to publish your work.  The technology, Twitter in this case, aids in the critical thinking; you are restricted to 140 characters.  The technology offers the learner a way to publish and see other published work. 

My ability to transport myself from place to place is actually enhanced and improved because of my truck.  I have no idea how my truck works other than gas goes in, step on the brake to stop, R means we are going to go in reverse, etc.  I do not need to understand the mechanics; I can have that done.  

I do not need to understand the mechanics; I can have that done.   I don’t need to know how to change the oil in my car.  I need to know that I need to have the oil changed in my car.  And, very important, I don’t need to learn this lesson by experience.  It is too expensive to learn experientially why I must have the oil changed in my car.

Isn’t it too expensive to spend 2-3 days on some topics that we traditionally teach?  Are we getting the biggest bang for our cognitive buck?  Often our learners can’t see the forest for the trees.  They never get to the why because of the how.  Don’t we need to learn when and how to use technology not only to engage our learners, but to increase our cognitive capital?

How can we learn to ask

  • Why are we learning this?  Is this essential?
  • Will technology do this for us so that we can learn more, deeper?
  • Does this have endurance, leverage, and relevance?
  • Shouldn’t we use technology to grapple with the mechanics so the learner shifts focus to the application, the why, the meaning?


  1. I mostly agree with you (and I love the term teachnology), but I think the big question we want kids to understand is the “when is it appropriate to use this technology” question. There are times when it is better to walk than drive, and the skill of knowing how to discern these moments, particularly when you realize that thing you’ve been doing by hand for hours could be done by a computer in seconds, this is a realization I want every student to be able to make. This is what I call computational thinking—knowing which problems computers can be a tremendous aid in solving, and which problems they can’t.

    I also really like some of the lessons that are featured in the teaching college math blog, where they use Wolfram Alpha to learn techniques of integration, etc.


  2. I agree with you John. It is better sometimes to walk than drive. I do not think that it is ever better to use a payphone than a cell phone.

    For me it is a matter of “the how and the why” intersecting with “problem-solving and critical-thinking”.

    It is also a matter of the heart. They are math avoidant. Their self-efficacy is low; they are afraid.

    Don’t get me wrong. I want AS, my 6 year old, to learn math, to read, to write, to produce art, and I want her to do it fearlessly. I want AS to add, subtract, multiply, deal with fractions and I want her to learn to compute by hand. I want GW, my 14 year old learner, to learn algebra, to write, to problem-solve, to think creatively, and I want her to do it fearlessly.

    GW can learn algebra; she is actually pretty good at it. GW has learned and internalized over the years that she is bad at math. She is not successful; she doesn’t understand why we are doing what we are doing. She has this script running in her head. I can’t do this; I won’t get the right answer. She is math avoidant. There is no point in working on this; I’m not going to be good at it. I will always be bad at this; I give up. I resign myself to the fact that I am not a math person.

    Is that what we want?

    Let me repeat: GW can learn algebra; she is actually pretty good at it. She is a thinker. Put a computing device in her hand and her confidence soars. You can see a physical change in her. She sits up; she smiles; she engages with others. It’s like kryptonite in reverse. With a calculator in her hand, she believes she can be successful; she thinks; the running script about failing stops. She is no longer crippled with self-doubt and fear. The technology helps her allow herself to think.

    That’s what we want.

    My biggest fear in my interactions with my learners is that I help perpetuate the “I can’t do this; I am bad at this; I will never learn this” mantra accidentally.

    And OH GOOD GRIEF! Sometimes we think we are teaching critical thinking and problem solving when we put a fraction in a math problem with no context. Seriously. Seriously? Seriously!!

    I think I am asking that we examine what we are teaching, how we are teaching it, and why we are teaching it. Whatever “it” is. What is essential to do by hand? It is not as much as we think, particularly if we never offer our learners to experience and understand the why.

    How should never be used as the gatekeeper of why.

    If it takes having a calculator in her hand for GW to experience success and want more, then I’m okay with that. It is not a crutch; it is her contacts. She can “see” better.


  3. I think we’re basically in agreement here. If anything, I think I’m trying to push even further to cultivate a sense of “why am I not making a computer do this” when facing a task that consists of nothing but boring computation. I have no problems with students using calculators, and recently, have even stopped caring about whatever they have stored on them. I want us to teach out students to develop a sense of when technology will help them, and then the ability to learn how to use that technology with minimal guidance from a teacher. This is certainly what happens when a kid really gets interested in film, or making music. Why can’t it happen in math?

    And as for what’s useful to do by hand, I suppose to me, it’s quick estimations and checks to see that your computation is right. Have you seen Street fighting mathematics? This is way over the level of all but the very best students in high school, but I wonder what Street Fighting JHS math might look like. If your exponential growth spreadsheet says your $100 will be $5000 in 2 years, how can you check this?


  4. I agree with you for the most part. My immediate reaction is these sentences:

    “I want us to teach out students to develop a sense of when technology will help them, and then the ability to learn how to use that technology with minimal guidance from a teacher. ”

    I would counter with

    Our students want their teachers to develop a sense of when technology will help them as well as the ability to learn how to use that technology.

    Haven’t you seen others decide based on gut reactions if something will work or not and often this gut has no experience on which to base a reaction?

    It is like the great question Bill Ferriter asks in Can Texting Help Teens with Writing and Spelling?

    How many people assume that if we “let” kids tweet that their writing will suffer? And, how many of those people tweet?

    If an exponential growth spreadsheet says $100 will be $5000 in 2 years, how can you check this? That one’s easy for me and my learners to answer. We collaborate. We calibrate our answers with each other. With or without technology we would not know if it made sense any other way.

    I also believe the same number of kids get interested in using teachnology to learn math as develop the same interest in using technology for music or film. We don’t expect/require every kid to become proficient in music or film. We do expect every kid to become proficient in algebra. Kids choose music and film; math is required of them. The dynamics are different.

    I want every learner to master algebra; I want them to experience success. If I’m honest, I want them to love it. I want to try to use technology to have them experience more success. Because in that success is a question…How, Ms. Gough, do I do this without technology? It happens again and again.

    I’m with Joe Bower on this one. Success first.


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