Managing and Exploiting Technological Change
An exposition of the way IT (smartboards) have made possible, or will make possible, new ways of teaching or learning in a specific discipline (physics and maths)
Smartboards in physics teaching may be summed up as making it possible to do more things, and do them more efficiently and convincingly than before. I have used smartboards throughout this year in teaching mathematics and physics and have found them invaluable. In particular, they make it easier to convey and demonstrate ideas – both conceptual and technical. In this post I’ll be discussing some of the keys ways in which they have improved my capacity to teach.
Convenience and efficiency
When teaching physics at VCE level there are a lot of equations and graphs to be conveyed and also a lot of concepts to be grasped and visualised by the students. When teaching wave motion recently I was able to use a number of animations, applets and images (all freely available online – see references) to show how individual particle motion contributes to a wave’s overall motion and also how, step-by-step, waves are combined (or superimposed).
If I had had to explain these by hand, using hand drawn diagrams, it would not only have taken a lot more time and effort, but it would have been messier, less precise and arguably less convincing. I have found that students are often more convinced when a computer tells them that it is so! And by using a number of sources that other people had prepared I was also able to explain a single concept from a variety of different angles in the event of the students responding better to one than to another. Furthermore, practical demonstrations (as opposed to experiments and laboratory work) in physics can be notoriously difficult to not only get working correctly and without undue mess but so that an entire class can see what is happening clearly. Pre-recorded videos (whether recorded by myself or accessed online) make this a thing of the past and again, thanks to the time saved, enable a number of demos to be shown!
Animations are also excellent for demonstrating large, complex ideas and then addressing single aspects of them without disrupting the overall presentation of the idea. In particular, when presenting wave animations to my Year 11 class, I was able to connect my laptop and, with a minimum of fuss, zoom in on particular particles (and draw attention to them with a laser pointer) and then zoom back out again – all of which would be impossible without modern technology. I have a particular love for the way in which I am able to prepare presentations in the comfort and security of my own laptop and then simply connect my laptop to the media centre. I am able to pre-load internet material on my laptop without having to worry about buffering when presenting lengthy material and corresponding loss of interest and focus from the students as well as lost lesson time. And hooking up my own laptop is a speedy and efficient way of preparing and transferring information without worrying about different computer systems or versions or internet browsers or…
Graphing and calculator display software
Given that this post is about how technology makes it easier to display and thus teach ideas it would be remiss to not mention how useful current graphing and calculator display technology is. The same points made above about the precision and speed gained when skipping hand-drawn demonstrations again apply: current software allows the teacher to quickly graph and display on a large screen how graphs and functions are affected by changes to variables and compare a large number of them next to each other. (And not only this but this software makes writing tests much simpler when it can all be done in the one MS Word document on my laptop!)
As well, not only do current graphics calculators enable students to see a lot of concepts for themselves at their own speed, but most of these calculators also come with software that enables the teacher to connect the calculator to their own laptop and display on the large screen the buttons that need to be pressed and actions taken to achieve particular results – no more dictation that, ‘no! The other button! The big, sort of grey one!’ Instead, students can view step-by-step which exact buttons I am pressing and what results I am achieving. As calculators grow more complicated, being able to demonstrate steps clearly and visually is vital.
In this post I have only touched on a fraction of the ways in which I have used smartboards and technology this year to assist my teaching – and I am only just beginning to learn the multitude of ways in which they can be further used!
Graphing and calculator software