George Lucas Educational Foundation
Technology Integration

Using Tech Tools to Energize Young Students’ Math Learning

These tools go beyond endless drills and make learning more interactive and collaborative.

April 25, 2024
insta_photos / iStock

When you think of using technology for math learning, what usually comes to mind first? For many educators, it’s programs that consist of repetition to gain mastery. This type of learning is focused on finding the solution to the problems given and does not focus on the process. But what if we could use technology in a different way? What if we could use technology to energize math learning and make it more interactive?

This is not in itself a new idea. In fact, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Guiding Principles state, “An excellent mathematics program integrates the use of mathematical tools and technology as essential resources to help students learn and make sense of mathematical ideas, reason mathematically, and communicate their mathematical thinking.”

In my work as an elementary school tech coach, I have explored lots of ways to amplify math learning with technology tools, such as to help students better visualize math concepts, to promote math interaction among students, and to provide multimodal ways to share students’ math thinking.

By examining technology tools in these ways, we can ensure that the tools we use with our students provide them with opportunities that they would not have otherwise. So let’s take a deeper dive into each of these features.

3 Ways Tech Tools Can Amplify Math Learning

1. Many tech tools offer our students the opportunity to visualize math concepts in an exciting way. As educators, we need to prioritize tools that give our students this capability. Do the tech tools you use offer virtual manipulatives? If so, consider using them for this feature. In addition, the NCTM shares the importance of using and connecting mathematical representations, and this feature speaks directly to this practice.

Desmos Classroom, a free tool through Amplify Education, gives us that opportunity. Its tools help our students to better visualize math. It has Mathigon’s Polypad, which contains a wealth of virtual math manipulatives. Included in these manipulatives are base-10 blocks, fraction circles, and more. For example, when I ask my learners to show different ways to make 10, they have many options to demonstrate this—including the use of number tiles.

Desmos Classroom also helps students to visualize math using sliders for modeling and graphs. When I introduce fractions to my second- and third-grade students, the sliders are a great way to help them first understand how to partition fractions and then to make the connections between these models and the number-line model.

2. Another essential way that we can use technology is to promote math discourse. We need to give our students opportunities to share their math thinking and learn from one another. As educators, we cannot be the only audience for our students’ thinking. We need to facilitate a culture of discourse in our classrooms. In fact, one of NCTM’s eight practices includes fostering a culture of meaningful discourse.

One of my favorite ways to do this is by using Pear Deck Learning’s Flashcard Factory. This free tool partners students up to make flash cards and can be a great way to get students talking about math. One student serves as the artist and shows how to solve the problem, while the other student is the writer and solves the problem, writes a word problem, or writes an equation. This depends on your task and is completely customizable. Plus, once all students are finished, classes can have meaningful discussions about their flash cards during the quality control phase.

Currently, my second-grade students are working on adding and subtracting two-digit numbers, and this activity works great for building this skill. I worked with their teachers to select four to six word problems, and then when they play Flashcard Factory, the artist shows how to solve the problem and the writer shares the equation. As they collaborate to create these cards, it’s pure magic.

3. A final important way to use technology during math instruction is providing our students with different ways to share their math thinking. Does the tech tool allow our students to share their thinking using video, audio, paint tools, text, and/or speech to text? These are all extremely important considerations that we need to take into account as we plan to use technology tools during math instruction. By allowing for multimodal thinking, we can elicit and use evidence of student discourse, another one of NCTM’s key teaching practices.

There are many programs that include this feature, including Microsoft Flip, Book Creator, and Wixie. Microsoft Flip is a free program but requires parental consent. Wixie is a low-cost option at $5 per year per student. Book Creator has a “freemium” model, which provides a limited number of features for free with additional features available for a fee. Premium features cost $13 per month or $130 per year. Regardless of which program you choose to use, think about what ways your students can share their thinking. Aim for more than two to three ways for them to do so. This allows all of our learners to best share their ideas.

As you can see, there are so many ways that we can energize math learning using technology.

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  • Technology Integration
  • Math
  • K-2 Primary
  • 3-5 Upper Elementary

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