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Deschooling Senior Secondary: Young Adults learning-earning and the New Spirit of Capitalism March 24, 2015

Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Education Policy and Politics, Educational Leadership, Secondary Education, Social Justice and Equity through Education.
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from Michael Singh and Bobby Harreveld


Classroom-centric schooling need not interfere with learning-earning in senior secondary

Deschooling L’earning (Sing & Harreveld, 2014) has been written for twenty-first century senior secondary teachers interested in the lives of young adult’s life/work trajectories. Unlike orthodox school-centric teacher educators there are those teachers whose ‘calling’ or vocation is to broker young adults’ learning and earning – or l’earning – through networked l’earning webs. Research during the course of the last decade has documented changes that extend and deepen the integration of young adults’ education, training, work, in the face of separatism agenda for education and production. There are now senior secondary teachers who invest considerable time in brokering new forms of partnership-driven l’earning for young adults to make real world contributions to adult life as part of accredited curricula. The findings from this research means for teachers’ professional learning, posing challenges for teacher education to further the education of teachers employed as network leaders.

Young adults’ disenchantment with disengaging classroom-centric schooling

Young adults’ disenchantment with disengaging classroom-centric schooling is evident in their disaffection and alienation from education. The research literature questions disengaging senior secondary schooling for its the separation of education from production, especially as many disenchanted young adults find its failure to contribute to a life worth living. Young adults’ critiques of classroom-centric schooling have seen the generation flexible l’earning services and work-integrated l’earning along with the reconfiguration of national qualifications frameworks. However, young adults’ confront continuing sources of insecurity, due in part to government policy adversity impacting the deschooling of their l’earning. Further, the international competition for high skilled, well-paid jobs adds to politically regressive policies of selection/exclusion that are adversely affecting young adults’ life/work/ security.

Brokering capital friendly l’earning webs

The changing spirit of capital accumulation has given rise to the brokering capital friendly l’earning webs for young adults. These capital friendly l’earning webs, which involve the brokering of their l’earning through outsourcing and subcontracting, are meant to contribute to the capability development of young adults. Teachers are now working as l’earning brokers. These l’earning brokers are integral to the flexible l’earning required for forming and maintaining capital friendly l’earning webs. Despite counter-moves that would seperate schooling from production, Illich’s (1973) critique which is directed at deschooling society now seems compatible, even if it is in a wayward fashion, with the new spirit of capitalism via the brokering of capital friendly l’earning webs.

Networking policy for deschooling l’earning

Government policy changes in young adults’ l’earning, and thus the work of teachers, are displacing classroom-centric schooling with the ethos of deschooling l’earning. This points to the importance of teacher education providing innovative opportunities and choices for the capability development of teachers. Structured by government legislation, participation in l’earning is now compulsory for young adults. This has given rise to the possibilities for interactional policies that maximise young adults’ participation and enhance their continuous transitions through cycles education, employment/unemployment and training. However, the international convergence in government testing regimes is doing little to counter the changes in international competition for high skilled and relatively well-paid labour. Given that international standardisation in government policy agendas around OECD tests works against the divergence that is necessary for innovation, changes in the mode and content of tests are now warranted.

Networking l’earning webs is not so radical

Teachers are attending to the organisational learning and changes required to move beyond classroom-centric schooling in order to deal with young adults’ project-driven networked l’earning. Deschooled leaders are creating divergent forms of networked l’earning webs for young adults. They interrogate government policies, legislation and national qualifications frameworks as part of their work to grasp the opportunities and choices they have for deschooling of young adults’ l’earning. These deschooled networked leaders have established their reputations for adaptability, flexibility, mobility, availability and, perhaps ironically loyalty to capitalist enterprises in which they have minimal control. To serve the common good, their networked l’earning webs are expected to advance young adults’ capabilities to enhance their security through a precarious life/work trajectory that is characterised by project-driven employment/unemployment.

Deschooling network leadership

The deschooling of schooled leadership can be examined in relation to three character types, namely bureaucratic system-thinking leadership, tradition-bound leadership and charismatic leadership. Increasingly, principals and teachers work through and across a multidimensional mosaic of these that can be described as deschooled network leadership.

Deschooling, democracy and government accountability

Subjecting the powers governing young adults’ l’earning to electoral accountability through monitory democracy is an important focus of deschooled network leadership. Democracy – demos the people, kratos power – means that ‘the people’ subject power – across all forms of institutionalised power at all levels of organisational management – to accountability. Increasingly, monitory democracy provides an important vehicle for holding those in power to account to the people. The instrumental values expressed in government policies provide one focus for having governments account for the sources of young adults’ life/work insecurities. Governments may make good policies, but deschooled network leaders can contribute to making better interactional education-employment/unemployment-training policies.

Tests of government accountability for deschooling l’earning

New tests of intersectionality of governments’ policy actions for deschooling young adults’ l’earning are required. Such tests of government policies might focus on their value for building young adults’ commitment to capital accumulation, for assuring their security through capital accumulation, and for determining whether new forms of capital accumulation serve the common good. These are tests which provide one vehicle for holding governments accountable for deschooling the l’earning opportunities and choices of young adults. The disability care and insurance industry, which relies on unpaid as much as paid labour, provides an important focus on monitory democracy so as to hold elected government representatives accountable for policies – or the lack therefore – in this field. A transformative intersectional policy agenda for young adults’ l’earning could link the government sponsored disability insurance industry with innovation in the assistive technology industry providing new directions for their education, employment and training, including in advanced research and development.

Implications for deschooling l’earning

Classroom-centric schooling research and policies offer a limited understanding of the complex l’earning partnerships and networking that is now a defining feature of young adults’ precarious life/work trajectories. A multi-stranded coalition of partnerships among intersecting fields of education-employment-training interests can test government policies and practices for their capacity to build young adults’ commitment to new modes of capital accumulation, to realise the security they claim to assure, and their capacity to serve the common good. Deschooling through networking l’earning provides possibilities for robust responses to, and expressions of renewed struggles regarding, young adults’ capital accumulation in the twenty-first century.
deschooling learning

Note well – All references can be found in:  Singh, M. & Harreveld, B. (2014). Deschooling L’earning: Young Adults and the New Spirit of Capitalism. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Michael Singh is Professor of Education in the School of Education and Centre for Educational Research at the University of Western Sydney, Australia, where he leads the Research Oriented School Engaged Teacher-Researcher Education Program.

Bobby Harreveld is Professor in Professional and Vocational Education and Deputy Dean at Central Queensland University, Australia.

High Possibility Classrooms: a new model for technology integration for schools March 9, 2015

Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Early Childhood Education, Engaging Learning Environments, Primary Education, Secondary Education, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
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from Jane Hunter

This post is dedicated to my parents, Patrice and Noel, and to Anna who all had great passion for education and sadly passed away in 2014.

On the 5 March Sir Ken Robinson will give the first annual Anna Craft memorial lecture: Educating for creativity: From what is to what might be at Exeter University in the UK. It will be available on YouTube at a later date. Professor Craft passed away last year after a very brief battle with an aggressive cancer. She was 53. She and Sir Ken worked closely together for many years prior to his departure to the US and it is her seminal work in ‘possibility thinking and creativity’ (Craft, 2002; 2005; 2006; 2011a); 2011b); 2012) that leaves a significant intellectual legacy for education in schools. Groundbreaking studies – years ahead of their time.

Craft’s writing and scholarship formed the epiphany moment in my doctoral studies – that instant when all that I had read, the data from research, the years of teaching and thinking about the role of technology in learning in schools … it suddenly all made sense. Light bulb! Light bulb! Light bulb! I emailed Professor Craft at the time and she emailed me back – we planned to work together this year.

Teachers who forge ahead and integrate technology in the most highly creative, intellectual and imaginative ways view childhood and youth as empowered, not at risk, in digital landscapes. The notion of LifeWork became important in my research and “how creativity in children and young people must engage with the needs and rights of the inward, in the home and the personal, and with the outward, in work and in public life” (Craft, 2005, p.150). Craft (2005) provided an important and provocative lens quite early on, that on the one hand questioned the promotion of children’s creativity in schools, and yet on the other, there was a “parallel drive towards technicisation and bureaucratisation, which, had the effect of reducing creativity in the teaching profession” (p.10). Creativity and the role of the Arts in education is also a major pre-occupation in Robinson’s intellectual work; both scholars write, argue, research and promote ideas of possibility in teaching and learning in schools.

The name High Possibility Classrooms or HPC for a fresh model for contemporary teaching practice seemed a logical step towards the end of my research of four exemplary teachers’ knowledge of technology integration in the classrooms of 6-16 year olds in NSW public schools. The doctoral study is now the subject of a new book Technology Integration and High Possibility Classrooms: Building from TPACK; it was published by Routledge on March 9, 2015. See here to order a copy.

The warrant for the book stems from a need for robust theory drawn from research to underpin technology integration in learning in education contexts – Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge or TPACK (Mishra & Koehler, 2006) is a well known theoretical framework, heavily researched and is highly respected in schools and in higher education – the HPC model for technology integration builds on the important work of TPACK. HPC has five conceptions – see Figure 1 and 22 themes of students learning processes and teaching strategies – see Figure 2.

Figure 1
fig 1
Figure 2
fig 2
Professor Punya Mishra has written the foreword in the book. He refers to the core of TPACK as directly relating to teacher creativity: “the framework acknowledges that teaching (particularly in novel, and technology-rich contexts) is complex, and requires both problem seeking and problem solving. The flexibility and range of knowledge that are necessary to integrate technology thoughtfully makes technology-savvy teaching an inherently creative act” (Hunter, 2015, p. xi).

Briefly, the first chapter in Technology Integration and High Possibility Classrooms: Building from TPACK examines global policy and education trends in technology integration in Australia, the USA and the UK. There is a critique of East Asian models of schooling and a picture of technology integration in schools in Singapore and South Korea is illustrated. Chapter 2 discusses other models for technology integration principally TPACK and there is a brief reference to SAMR (Puentedura, 2006). The view of HPC as action knowledge is proposed towards the end of this chapter.

The following four chapters (3-6) are the case studies from the research and readers come to understand the worlds of Gabby, Gina, Nina and Kitty: early years, primary or elementary, middle and high school classrooms. In January this year Education HQ commissioned a series of articles about the teachers in the HPC study and if you click on each of the links above you will see a quick offering from the classrooms to acquaint yourself with the kind of practices that I argue will shift teaching and learning in our schools.

In Chapter 7 the commonalities and differences in exemplary teachers’ knowledge of technology integration are assessed from the point of view of the research. In the final chapter the question of whether all schools can create High Possibility Classrooms is posited from an urgent need to re-tool the discipline of education (Furlong, 2013) using conceptions of theory, theory, creativity, public learning, and life preparation. Collectively, the HPC conceptions work in concert with the fifth conception, contextual accommodations to create action knowledge (AK). These outcomes occur through actions both at the level of practice, through policy considerations, out of ideas for professional development for teachers and future research in schools.

Each chapter in the book has an end section for professional conversation using a series of discussion pointers to guide professional learning in technology integration in teacher education whether that might be in-service or pre-service teachers. I trust it will be useful. The case studies in the book are timely and add to what we know about technology integration from exemplary teachers’ perspectives – see Figure 3. They are inspirational examples for all teachers, they are being mapped to the AITSL standards and more research to validate the HPC model in mainstream classrooms is currently being conducted in primary and high schools.

Figure 3

fig 3


I will use Technology Integration and High Possibility Classrooms: Building from TPACK in my own teaching – in teacher education we have the dual imperative to know how to use technology/learning management systems/blended learning approaches and so on; however we also have to model the rich pedagogical practices that we want our future teachers to action in classrooms.


I look forward to continuing the conversation.



Craft, A. (2000). Creativity across the primary curriculum: Framing and developing practice. London: Routledge.

Craft, A. (2002). Creativity in the early years: A lifewide foundation. London: Routledge.

Craft, A. (2005). Creativity in schools: Tensions and dilemmas. Abingdon: Routledge.

Craft, A. (2006). Creativity and wisdom? Cambridge Journal of Education, 36(3), 336-350.

Craft, A. (2011a). Approaches to creativity in education in the United Kingdom. In J. Sefton-Green, P. Thomson, K. Jones, & L. Bresler, (Eds), The Routledge international handbook of creative learning. Abingdon: Routledge.

Craft, A. (2011b). Creativity and education futures: Learning in a digital age. Stoke on Trent: Trentham Books.

Craft, A. (2012). Childhood in a digital age: Creative challenges for educational futures. London Review of Education, 10 (2), 173-190. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14748460.2012.691282

Furlong, J. (2013). Education – An anatomy of the discipline. Abingdon, England: Routledge

Hunter, J. (2015). Technology Integration and High Possibility Classrooms: Building from TPACK. New York: Routledge.

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M.J. (2006). Technological pedagogical content knowledge: A new framework for teacher knowledge. Teachers College Record, 108(6), 1017–1054.

Puentedura, R.R. (2006). Transformation, Technology, and Education. Retrieved from http://hippasus.com/resources/tte/


Dr Jane Hunter teaches in the School of Education and is a member of the Centre for Educational Research at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. She researches in the field of technology integration and learning, pedagogy, curriculum and teacher professional development.

Professional learning and Primary Mathematics: Engaging teachers to engage students February 24, 2015

Posted by christinefjohnston in Directions in Education, Engaging Learning Environments, Primary Education, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
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Catherine Attard

The issue of student engagement with mathematics is a constant topic of discussion and concern within and beyond the classroom and the school, yet how much attention is given to the engagement of teachers? I am a firm believer that one of the foundational requirements for engaging our students with mathematics is a teacher who is enthusiastic, knowledgeable, confident, and passionate about mathematics teaching and learning – that is, a teacher who is engaged with mathematics. Research has proven that the biggest influence on student engagement with mathematics is the teacher, and the pedagogical relationships and practices that are developed and implemented in day to day teaching (Attard, 2013).


A regular challenge for me as a pre-service and in-service teacher educator is to re-engage teachers who have ‘switched off’ mathematics, or worse still, never had a passion for teaching mathematics to begin with. Now, more than ever, we need teachers who are highly competent in teaching primary mathematics and numeracy. The recent release of the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group (TEMAG) (2014) report, Action Now: Classroom Ready Teachers, included a recommendation that pre-service primary teachers graduate with a subject specialisation prioritising science, mathematics, or a language (Recommendation 18). In the government’s response (Australian Government: Department of Education and Training, 2015), they agree  “greater emphasis must be given to core subjects of literacy and numeracy” and will be instructing AITSL to “require universities to make sure that every new primary teacher graduates with a subject specialisation” (p.8). While this is very welcome news, we need to keep in mind that we have a substantial existing teaching workforce, many of whom should consider becoming subject specialists. It is now time for providers of professional development, including tertiary institutions, to provide more opportunities for all teachers, regardless of experience, to improve their knowledge and skills in mathematics teaching and learning, and re-engage with the subject.


So what professional learning can practicing teachers access in order to become ‘specialists’, and what models of professional learning/development are the most effective? Literature on professional learning (PL) describes two common models: the traditional type of activities that involve workshops, seminars and conferences, and reform type activities that incorporate study groups, networking, mentoring and meetings that occur in-situ during the process of classroom instruction or planning time (Lee, 2007). Although it is suggested that the reform types of PL are more likely to make connections to classroom teaching and may be easier to sustain over time, Lee (2007) argues there is a place for traditional PL or a combination of both, which may work well for teachers at various stages in their careers. An integrated approach to PD is supported by the NSW Institute of Teachers (2012).


In anticipation of the TEMAG recommendations for subject specialisation, I have been involved in the design and implementation of a new, cutting edge course to be offered by the University of Western Sydney, the Graduate Certificate of Primary Mathematics Education, aimed at producing specialist primary mathematics educators. The fully online course will be available from mid 2015 to pre-service and in-service teachers. Graduates of the course will develop deep mathematics pedagogical content knowledge, a strong understanding of the importance of research-based enquiry to inform teaching and skills in mentoring and coaching other teachers of mathematics. For those teachers who are hesitant to commit to completing a full course of study, the four units of the Graduate Certificate will be broken up into smaller modules that can be completed through the Education Knowledge Network (www.uws.edu.au/ekn) from 2016 as accredited PL through the Board of Studies Teaching and Educational Standards (BOSTES).


In addition to continuing formal studies, I would encourage teachers to join a professional association. In New South Wales, the Mathematical Association of NSW (MANSW) (http://www.mansw.nsw.edu.au) provides many opportunities for the more traditional types of professional learning, casual TeachMeets, as well as networking through the many conferences offered. An additional source of PL provided by professional associations are their journals, which usually offer high quality, research-based teaching ideas. The national association, Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers (AAMT) has a free, high quality resource, Top Drawer Teachers (http://topdrawer.aamt.edu.au), that all teachers have access to, regardless of whether you are a member of the organisation or not. Many more informal avenues for professional learning are also available through social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin, as well as blogs such as this.


Given that teachers have so much influence on the engagement of students, it makes sense to assume that when teachers themselves are disengaged and lack confidence or the appropriate pedagogical content knowledge for teaching mathematics, the likelihood of students becoming and remaining engaged is significantly decreased, in turn effecting academic achievement. The opportunities that are now emerging for pre-service and in-service teachers to increase their skills and become specialist mathematics teachers is an important and timely development in teacher education and will hopefully result in improved student engagement and academic achievement.




Attard, C. (2013). “If I had to pick any subject, it wouldn’t be maths”: Foundations for

engagement with mathematics during the middle years. Mathematics Education Research Journal, 25(4), 569-587.


Australian Government: Department of Education and Training (2015). Teacher

education ministerial advisory group. Action now: Classroom ready teachers. Australian Government Response.


Lee, H. (2007). Developing an effective professional development model to enhance teachers’ conceptual understanding and pedagogical strategies in mathematics. Journal of Educational Thought, 41(2), 125.

NSW Institute of Teachers. (2012). Continuing professional development policy – supporting the maintenance of accreditation at proficient teacher/professional competence. .  Retrieved from file:///Users /Downloads/Continuing%20Professional%20Development%20Policy.pdf.


Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group (2014). Action now: Classroom ready


Lost opportunities, forgotten children: Education for refugee children in detention February 21, 2015

Posted by Editor21C in Education Policy and Politics, Social Justice and Equity through Education.
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From: Susanne Gannon

This morning I read about my university’s most recent ‘remarkable graduate’, Rwandan-born Noel Zihabamwe, and I heard on Radio National from Afghanistan-born PhD graduate Dr Ahmad Sarmast about his work bringing music back to Kabul. Yesterday I picked up a copy of Supporting School-University Pathways for refugee students’ access and participation in tertiary education hot off the press by my colleague Associate Professor Loshini Naidoo and her team, and last Monday I watched more buck-passing about children in immigration detention on ABC’s Q&A by politicians from the major parties. This month the child I know who was born in detention in Nauru started high school. Fortunately, that family moved to Australia as refugees before their child was old enough for school. But these events made me wonder about how we might think about equity issues in the education of children in detention.

Although we might quibble about how we define ‘equity’ in education – with opinions clustering around access, outcomes, ‘choice’, aspiration, quality, funding, and so on – what is clear is that education changes lives. It is, at heart, and at best, a social justice project and fundamental to democracy. Arguably, it is for the most disadvantaged communities that education can have the greatest impact. Without doubt, the most disadvantaged are children from refugee backgrounds, particularly those who have been, or who are, in immigration detention.

This afternoon I returned to the two reports, ten years apart, on children in immigration detention to consider what they have to say specifically about education. What is surprising is not their differences, nor do they deploy the volatile rhetoric that circulates around them in the public sphere. Rather I am struck by the sobriety and consistency of their messages. The core purpose of education to help people to achieve their potential has been – and continues to be – deeply compromised by Australian immigration detention policies and practice.

A last resort: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention (April 2004), presented to then Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock by then HREOC Commissioner Sev Ovdowski, dedicates Chapter 12 to Education for Children in Immigration Detention. The new report The forgotten Children: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention (November 2014) [6] presented to Attorney-General George Brandis by AHRC President Gillian Triggs and released last week shifts its focus somewhat by disaggregating the category of children in detention, and by taking a more developmental approach. Chapters 8 and 9 focus specifically on school-aged primary and secondary school-aged children, respectively. Rather than being separated into a distinct chapter of its own as it was in 2004, education is addressed in a subsection of each chapter alongside emotional health and well-being, physical environment and so on. Chapter 12, on Children in detention on Nauru, also addresses education directly.

Equality of access is the crucial issue in the 2004 inquiry, and the Report concludes that it is best achieved by accessing education outside detention. Their investigation shows that this was the only way that an adequate quality of education could be provided in light of the ‘significant barriers to education inside the centres’ (579). External education ‘significantly improves the education received by detainee children’ though regrettably, had only become available to detained children late in the period of the inquiry with 80% of children in external schools by mid-2003 (579). Prior to that, internal provision of education was impacted by inadequate facilities and equipment, insufficient teachers, inappropriately qualified (ESL) teachers, inappropriate or no curriculum, teacher turnover, inadequate hours of tuition, lack of assessment and reporting, attendance, mobility, children’s depression, distress and trauma (587-623).

The 2004 report notes that the Convention on the Rights of the Child obliges the Australian government to provide primary and secondary education to all children, regardless of whether or not they are in immigration detention. The principle of nondiscrimination also means that it must be of equivalent quality to that available to other children (581). The ‘best interests of the child’ are the first consideration in education (582). The report noted ‘inherent inconsistency between the current mandatory detention system, and the protection of children’s fundamental rights’ (630). Children who attended external education benefitted from ‘the opportunity to experience a full curriculum, …to socialize and make new friends, and …to regularly leave the detention environment’ (632), and were described by one Principal as ‘model students’ (632), and by another Principal as demonstrating ‘high levels of participation in extracurricular activities’ (632). The detailed description of specialized support for refugee children at one exemplary school (Holroyd High School, Sydney) demonstrates not only what is needed, but what is possible (568).

Fast forward ten years. The 2014 Inquiry reiterates the legal frameworks for Australia’s obligation to care for children and to consider the best interests of the child ahead of all other considerations. Our current policies remain in breach – as they also were in 2004 – of our obligations under the Conventions of the Rights of the Child (74-77). The chapter subsections on education are much briefer than the long chapter on education in the 2004 Report. They do not address issues of curriculum or teacher quality that were relevant when the Detention Centre Management (ACM in 2004, SERCO in 2014) endeavored to provide education inside centres. It is clear that external provision by fully qualified teachers with proper curriculum in appropriate learning spaces is now recognized as essential. However access to schools remains problematic, so for those children who are not attending schools there is not even an inadequate alternative available inside detention.

For primary and secondary school children, there is uneven provision of schooling with mainland children accessing external schools if they have been enrolled and very poor access for children on Christmas Island and Nauru. Children on Christmas Island, which is an Australian territory with schools staffed and regulated by Australian educational authorities, had ‘almost no school education… not more than two to four weeks over an eight month period’ in 2013, however a new agreement with WA Catholic Education Office improved provision from mid-2014 (130-131). Teenage children on Christmas were similarly impacted by very limited access to education. Though most teenagers on the mainland were enrolled in public schools, stress, trauma and security measures were impacting on their capacity to learn. Some teenagers in the Melbourne Detention Centre were prevented or discouraged from attending school because of the possibility or threat that they would be transferred to Christmas Island (147). The chapters on primary aged children and teenagers both conclude that the inadequate provision of school education on Christmas Island ‘has had negative effects on their learning and may have long term impacts on the cognitive development and academic progress of these children’ (134, 148). Nauru seems to be the only detention centre where provision of primary and secondary school education is made largely on site, within the detention centre, and the concerns are consistent with those expressed ten years ago. The environment inside detention on Nauru ‘is not conducive to learning’ (184), with inadequate equipment and facilities, and multiage classes with teacher quality inside the detention centre not explicitly addressed. A pilot project had allowed a small number of older students to attend external schools in Nauru, but teacher shortages and resourcing problems within those schools made it unlikely to continue.

Finally, although education is addressed much more briefly in the 2014 report, it is clear that adequate provision is far from being achieved. Education is not a high priority for the management of detention centres, who are charged with detaining people rather than expanding their capacities to achieve their individual potential or to contribute to society. Governments too are blind to the potential of these young people, and to our obligations – morally, ethically, legally – to provide education that might assist with this.


Associate Professor Susanne Gannon is Equity Program leader in the Centre for Educational Research, School of Education, at the University of Western Sydney.

Mathematics, technology, and 21st Century learners: How much technology is too much? February 10, 2015

Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Early Childhood Education, Primary Education, Role of the family.
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from Catherine Attard

On a recent visit to a shopping centre in Sydney, I noticed a new children’s playground had been installed. On closer inspection (see the photos below) I was amazed to find a cubby house structure that had a number of iPads built into it. There was also a phone charging station built less than a metre off the ground, for users of the playground to access.

The playground had obviously been designed for very young children. So what’s the problem? Shouldn’t playgrounds be meant for physical activity? What messages are the designers of this playground sending to children and their parents? Does technology have to pervade every aspect of our lives? What damage is this doing to children’s social and physical skills?

attard 2

While considering the implications of this technology-enhanced playground, I began to reflect on the ways we use technology in the classroom.

Is there such as thing as having too much technology? I am a strong supporter of using technology to enhance teaching and learning, and I know there are a multitude of benefits for students and teachers, particularly in relation to the use of mobile technologies (Attard 2014, 2013).

However, there are issues and tensions. How do we, as educators, balance the use of technology with what we already know works well? For example, in any good mathematics classroom, students would be manipulating concrete materials to assist in building understandings of important mathematical concepts. Children are engaged in hands-on mathematical investigations and problem solving, arguing, reasoning and communicating through the language of mathematics.

Can technology replace the kinesthetic and social aspects of good mathematics lessons? How do we find the right balance? Do students actually want more technology in the classroom, or do they prefer a more hands-on and social approach?


Often we use technology in the classroom to bridge the ‘digital divide’ between students’ home lives and school. We know this generation has access to technology outside the school, and we often assume that students are more engaged when we incorporate digital technologies into teaching and learning.

In the The App Generation, Gardner and Davis (2013) discuss how our current generation relies on technology in almost every aspect of their lives. They make some important points that can translate to how we view the use of the technology in the classroom:

 Apps can make you lazy, discourage the development of new skills, limit you to mimicry or tiny trivial tweaks or tweets – or they can open up whole new worlds for imagining, creating, producing, remixing, even forging new identities and enabling rich forms of intimacy (p. 33).

Gardner and Davis argue that young people are so immersed in apps, they often view their world as a string of apps. If the use of apps allows us to pursue new possibilities, we are ‘app-enabled’. Conversely, if the use and reliance on apps restricts and determines procedures, choices and goals, the users become ‘app-dependent’ (2013). If we view this argument through the lens of mathematics classrooms, the use of apps could potentially restrict the learning of mathematics and limit teaching practices, or they could provide opportunities for creative pedagogy and for students to engage in higher order skills and problem solving.

So how do educators strike the right balance when it comes to technology? I often promote the use of the SAMR model (Puentedura, 2006) as a good place to start when planning to use technology. The SAMR model (Puentedura, 2006) represents a series of levels of “incremental technology integration within learning environments” (van Oostveen, Muirhead, & Goodman, 2011, p. 82).

However, the model is not without limitations. Although it describes four clear levels of technology integration, I believe there should be another level, ‘distraction’, to describe the use of technology that detracts from learning. I also think the model is limited in that it assumes that integration at the lower levels, substitution and augmentation, cannot enhance students’ engagement. What is important is the way the technology is embedded in teaching and learning. Any tool is only as good as the person using it, and if we use the wrong tool, we minimise learning opportunities.

Is there such a thing as having too much technology? Although our students’ futures will be filled with technologies we haven’t yet imagined, I believe we still need to give careful consideration to how, what, when and why we use technology, particularly in the mathematics classroom. If students develop misconceptions around important mathematical concepts, we risk disengagement, the development of negative attitudes and students turning away from further study of mathematics in the later years of schooling and beyond.

As for the technology-enhanced playground, there is a time and a place for learning with technology. I would rather see young children running around, playing and laughing with each other rather than sitting down and interacting with an iPad!



Attard C, 2014, iPads in the primary mathematics classroom: exploring the experiences of four teachers in Empowering the Future Generation Through Mathematics Education, White, Allan L., Tahir, Suhaidah binti, Cheah, Ui Hock, Malaysia, pp 369-384. Penang: SEMEO RECSAM.

Attard, C. (2013). Introducing iPads into Primary Mathematics Pedagogies: An Exploration of Two Teachers’ Experiences. Paper presented at the Mathematics education: Yesterday, today and tomorrow (Proceedings of the 36th Annual conference of the Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia), Melbourne.

Gardner, H, & Davis, K. (2013). The app generation. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Puentedura, R. (2006). SAMR.   Retrieved July 16, 2013, from www.hippasus.com

van Oostveen, R, Muirhead, William, & Goodman, William M. (2011). Tablet PCs and reconceptualizing learning with technology: a case study in higher education. Interactive Technology and Smart Education, 8(2), 78-93. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/17415651111141803


Dr Catherine Attard is a senior lecturer in mathematics education at the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. She is is currently the president of the Mathematical Association of New South Wales and secretary of the Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia, and has contributed a number of posts on mathematics education to this blog.


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