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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Technology Integration: An Old Story

My son is going to his honors calculus exam today armed with the TI-89 graphing calculator. He spent last night programming in all of the functions that he will need. He will be examined not only on his math skill but also on his grasp of the TI-89.

The graphing calculator is not an option in calculus at Episcopal. As a student in our upper school, you might be able to pass your math courses but you will not thrive if you do not own one. On its website, the College Board states, "Some questions on the Mathematics Level 1 and Level 2 Subject Tests cannot be solved without a scientific or graphing calculator. We recommend the use of a graphing calculator rather than a scientific calculator." Mastery of the technology is now an essential part of a modern education in mathematics.

It took a long time to get to this point. When I took calculus in 1979 I had to have a scientific calculator to do my work, but it was not allowed in exams. A few years earlier, my older brothers were required to use slide rules to do their math homework. And of course, there was a small culture war over the use of calculators when they were first introduced.

There was really no way to stop this kind of evolution; nor would it have been wise to try to accelerate it. In a similar way, the word processor has become, simply, the way one writes a paper, from the brainstorming stage all the way through to the finished product. Very few people still start with a yellow legal pad and a pencil, as many did just a decade or two ago.

Although new technologies can be disruptive and revolutionary, in education they tend to be evolutionary. I predict that the use of e-readers and digital reading will follow a similar pattern. In twenty years we will be reading differently -- just as we are writing differently and calculating differently than we did twenty years ago. But it will be habitual and natural for us.

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