Beyond Calculators

“Arguably one of the most controversial pieces of educational technology to enter the classroom has been the calculator.”

That’s a quote from Audrey Waters “A Breif History of Calculators in the Classroom.” A topic I started thinking about when reading the article by ISTE on the TPACK Framework. At one time everything thing we use today in education was “the new technology.” Even a pencil.

The idea that technology is “everything that has been invented after we were born” is intriguing to me. I don’t think of a calculator as technology. I think of it as a tool I have always used to help with harder math problems.  I remember having one of those large graphing calculators in high school, the kind with the sliding cover, and decorating it with 100 versions of my name in cursive. Oh high school…..

Courtesy of half alive - soo zzzz from Flickr

Courtesy of half alive – soo zzzz from Flickr

As a teacher today I think it’s important to think about my students from this perspective. What is technology to them? I asked some of the digital natives from my grade 3 class what new technology means to them. This is what they said…

“Technology is different kinds of electronic things”

“Technology is the future”

“Technology is cars that fly”

Not one of them mentioned a computer or the internet. When I asked them if they think of a computer, tablet, or the internet as new technology they said they wouldn’t think of it at all. One of my students said “the internet is not new because it has always been there.” Another student said that in the future, maybe technology might be people sitting in a laboratory sharing ideas….like a chatroom but in person.” I found that one extremely interesting.

Then I asked myself the question of the week: How would I evaluate my own technology practice in the classroom? Am I using technology authentically? Or am I just using it as a substitution for older types of tech like a pencil and paper.

The SAMR Model outlines the stages with which we can see how technology is used in the classroom. I found it really helpful in evaluating how well I am integrating tech into my teaching.

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

I know when I started using tech in the classroom I was clearly an S (substitution), and I still see a lot of teachers who consistently hover on that level to this day. I think we all do learning activities on that level from day to day.

Then I moved to A (augmentation) and started using computers more regularly, but not in a way that was changing the skills and concepts learned. I would use Power Point and Google Docs for assignments. I would have students use online dictionaries rather than paper books. Functional improvements, but no significant change in learning outcomes.

After that, I moved to M (modification) and had students using Kidblog and taking part in group discussions online. I would have them collaborating on presentations in Google Docs, and making audio recordings to add to their presentations during their Unit of Inquiry projects. Technology was really modifying how we were learning, and helping us move into the final step, R (redefinition).

This is the stage I find I am aiming for, but not consistently meeting. It could be due to the fact that I have technological limitations. I share my class laptop set, and have limited use of IPads. In an ideal world I would have computers and tablets available when students needed and their use would be student directed.

My goal is to allow for learning that could not have happened when I was a child. Today’s technology has the power to redefine learning. Going beyond using it as a tool, and integrating it into learning so it expands the possibilities of what students can achieve.

After all, when pocket calculators first emerged in classrooms they were not well received. Teachers thought they would take the place of real problem solving. Or they would just make students lazy and act as a substitute for real work. Students wouldn’t think for themselves, but rely on a calculator instead.

Sure, maybe some did….but there were also teachers who harnessed the power calculators could provide, and used them to enhance and further learning. Taking what would have previously been impossible and making it possible.

2 comments to “Beyond Calculators”
2 comments to “Beyond Calculators”
  1. Hi Tanya,

    I really like how you compare technology integration today to the use of calculators when they first entered education. Back then, that was the newest tool introduced into education, and today we have different tools but with similar struggles: how to use them to enhance learning.

    You go through a nice process of self-evaluation in this post by looking carefully at how you are moving through the different parts of the SAMR model in your teaching. I know that many of us really want to hit that magic R, but I think that the more you use the SAMR model, the more you begin to realize that it isn’t necessarily all about the R. You should ask yourself if it is necessary to always aim for redefinition, or is it sometimes more appropriate to stay within substitution or modification? I’m not saying that we should stop aiming for redefinition, but of course, always look carefully at where it can be most beneficial to learning.

    I know that access to technology can create quite a few barriers. It seems that your shared access situation has limited your time with the devices. Knowing that this will be difficult to change, I encourage you to ask yourself, what would redefinition look like in your setting? You are alreading doing some wonderful things with the tools you have and the limited time that you have them in! I think you will find your path to redefinition in no time! 😉

  2. Pingback: Thoughts During Recess | Technology In My Classroom

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