Where X = iPad: Summer Institute for Algebra Teachers Integrates Tablet Technology

Twenty-one teachers from middle and high schools in the south region of the Los Angeles Unified School District were back in the classroom for three weeks this summer, but unlike during the school year, they were not in front of the class. Instead, the teachers had become students again, broadening their knowledge in mathematics through the California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) Math Project, a professional development program for K-12 algebra teachers funded by the California Subject Matter Project (CSMP).

LAUSD algebra teachers work on iPads at CSU Dominguez Hills Summer Math Institute.

CSUDH has been a regional CSMP partner since 1986 and each summer puts on these three-week-long institutes teachers receive intensive instruction in mathematics theory and pedagogy to help expand their ability to make math more understandable, relevant and hopefully interesting to their students.  The institute is led by John Wilkins, acting dean of the College of Natural and Behavioral Sciences, and includes instruction from CSU Dominguez Hills math professors, and K-12 teachers who have become institute master-teachers.

“We try to present algebra from the stand point of challenging the teachers, so if there are gaps in their knowledge we’re able to talk about those things,” Wilkins said. “We’re not here to lecture them about algebra knowledge, but to try to come to a deeper understanding of what the curriculum is so that we can try to move teachers away from just reading examples out of a book.”

What was special this year was the introduction of tablet technology, specifically iPads. As the institute progressed, the iPads went from being an unfamiliar gadget to a valuable tool. The teachers learned how to use the devices not only to search for applications and online resources that could aid them in conveying math concepts, but also as a tool to share – through video and cloud sharing capabilities among other things – best practices with their fellow teachers when they’re back in front of the class.

“While many teachers had iPhones, which gave them an advantage, most teachers had no experience with iPads. But by the end, teachers could take notes, create presentations, capture videos and still photos, and annotate pdfs,” Wilkins said.  “Teachers also learned how to project content wirelessly from their iPad onto the classroom projector. I am very confident that these math teachers are ready to use them in their classrooms and use them as tools for collaborating with other teachers about their math lessons.”

Related article: CSU Dominguez Hills Awarded Federal Grant to IMPACT Math Teacher Development

While the opportunity to gain more math knowledge, learn different strategies to teaching math, and share successful approaches with fellow teachers were attractive components to participants, the introduction of the iPad to this year’s institute was a definite draw.

“I wanted to know how to incorporate the iPad into the classroom and into instruction,” said Patricia Encarnacion, an eighth grade algebra teacher at South Gate’s Southeast Middle School who has been teaching for four years. In that time she has witnessed the rise of technology in students’ lives. She said she wanted to turn what has become a negative – students using their smart phones and tablets in the classes and not paying attention – into a positive.

“They’re (the students) a different generation, too distracted to just listen,” she said. “Rather than punish them for being distracted, how do I use that distraction to get them to learn?… I think it will be a good way to bridge the gap.”

Linda Hermosillo, a 15-year veteran teacher of seventh and eighth grade math, currently at Dana Middle School in San Pedro, said she signed up for the institute because she wants to get students excited about math again and hoped this new technology could help.

“I use technology now… but this is so exciting, so many applications, so many ways it can be used,” she said. “It’s important to have new ideas and getting kids to talk about math.”

The teachers will keep the iPads and incorporate them into their instruction in the coming academic year and will come back together throughout the year to share how their lessons went and what they learned using the iPad in the classroom.  They will be part of a larger cohort of teachers taking part in Project IMPACT, a program that was recently awarded a federal grant to provide sustained professional development over the next three years.

For more information about the CSUDH Math Project, contact Shelia Wood at (310) 243-2203 or for more information about the California Subject Matter Project, visit http://csmp.ucop.edu.

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