[Lisa Nussdorfer] Using the iPad in the Mathematics Classroom

I try to attend every iPad session I can. The technology interests me itself but the massive interest of teachers at these conferences interests me even more. Lisa Nussdorfer’s session would have broken through the fire marshall’s maximum three times over if she had let everyone in the room who wanted to attend. What accounts for that interest?

These are expensive tools, after all, and the question in the back of my mind at all times is, “What problem are they meant to solve?” If “iPad” is the answer, then what is the question?

Is the question:

  • “How can we incorporate technology students love into our own practice?”
  • “How can we lighten the administrative load in our classrooms?”
  • “How can we enhance and expand access to the very math our students learn?”
  • All of the above.

In every iPad session I’ve attended, I tend to feel like the rest of the participants and the speaker have all settled on the question or questions, while for me that question is still open.

These sessions must be hell on presenters, who have to differentiate a population as diverse as any you’ve had in your classroom. We had participants with every level of experience from those who didn’t know that double-tapping the home button gets you a list of open apps to those who were reliably using box.net to distribute and receive class assignments. There were teachers managing one iPad, six iPads, and thirty iPads per classroom.

So Lisa Nussdorfer covered some of her favorite apps and fielded questions for the remainder.

She highlighted ShowMe, Educreations, and Explain Everything saying, “You’ve heard of Khan Academy. These give you the ability to be Khan.” (A participant called out Doceri as another alternative.) Later she said, “I wanted to be Khan briefly but whenever I show a video to a kid they’re kinda like ‘Eh.’ It didn’t quite have the response I was expecting.”

Another participant said, “I don’t use [those screencasting apps] because they don’t look good and I don’t sound good on them.”

Nussdorfer called Algebra Touch the coolest math app out of all of them. It’s a useful illustration of algebra skills, but a participant pointed out that “Algebra Touch does the work for you.”

She pointed at another app and said, “This is free but you have advertisements so that’s kind of a problem.” I’m hoping we’re all on Nussdorfer’s page with this one. Advertisements in front of kids should be a non-starter.

The questions from the crowd took us in some interesting directions. One asked Nussdorfer why she wasn’t recommending Fuse, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Algebra textbook for the iPad.

Nussdorfer replied: “I got the sample of it and thought, ‘It’s a textbook.’ I thought it was like a textbook. If you’re going to spend money on an iPad, you should get something more than just a textbook. And it’s sixty dollars.”

Another participant called out the low resolution of writing on an iPad, relative to writing on a whiteboard or paper (see above, where the word “Doceri” takes up half the width of the screen):

I’ve found the iPad device to be not a very good device to write on, at least with math. You just don’t have a fine enough stylus or control over your writing. It’s like one of those big pencils for first graders.

As I said, I always find these sessions interesting and I’m glad I attended. At the moment, the question that interests me is, “How can we enhance and expand access to the very math our students learn?” But not just on an app-by-app basis. I’m not necessarily in the market for a list of apps mapped to content standards. I’m mainly curious how an investment of tens of thousands of dollars to put digital, networked devices in every student’s hand will result in more interesting math being taught to more students. That question, for me, is still open.


10 thoughts on “[Lisa Nussdorfer] Using the iPad in the Mathematics Classroom

  1. Pingback: [Lisa Nussdorfer] Using the iPad in the Mathematics Classroom | MathRecap « sdoukakis's Blog

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  3. David Petro says:

    It is always good to hear what apps people are using. One app that I consider one of the best that mixes gaming with mathematics is Dragon Box (http://dragonboxapp.com/). It touts itself as “the first real algebra game”. With this game, even my 10 year old daughter has learned the basics of solving equations (and she doesn’t even no she’s doing it).

    • Donna MacKinnon says:

      I agree about DragonBox, but sadly they seem to have increased the price making it less accessible.

  4. arvind s grover says:

    Hi Dan, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I feel like the bigger questions are at the heart of the matter. Talking apps is tough because our needs as teachers (and learners) are so different from school to school. I feel like we need to be helping teachers recognize iPad capabilities – consumption of content, creation of content, manipulation of data, collaboration across time and space, etc. Then they can get into how those capabilities could change one’s own classrooms. I think we have to start with teachers and students dreaming up big dreams, then finding apps that let them get there…there are no magic apps, but there are magical teachers.

  5. Jerome Lacoste says:

    Donna, while technically it may seem that we have increased the price of dragonbox, we haven’t.

    We had 2 versions, the game one (DragonBox) and the educative one (DragonBox+), and we are currently only promoting the educative one, which contains twice the number of levels. The price of DragonBox+ has not changed.

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  7. Elizabeth Baker says:

    I really appreciated this session and appreciated EVEN MORE with this thread of conversation after having time to reflect. I need to get smarter about iPad/app advantages , pitfalls and I need to hear my colleagues thinking out loud about this too. This follow-up has been very useful.

  8. Lisa Nussdorfer says:

    That picture wasn’t taken from my best side :) My biggest reflection was there was such a wide range of experience using the iPad in the room and coming from different angles. I wish there was more time for networking. In fact, one teacher told me after the talk how successful her friend was using the HMH Fuse app. Then I was sorry that I said anything about the app because I agree it really is the teacher and tool, not necessarily the tool. The app also has to fit with your teaching style.

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