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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.


1. English Expressions - February 10, 2015

This is a really great post. There is an interesting division among teachers with the use of technology. But, I think sometimes technology has gone too far. I think it offers too many distractions and actually makes the student lazier as it takes away their ability to problem-solve, and improve their critical thinking. And although technology has it’s place within education, I think it’s important students learn how to socialize and grow without the use of technology. There’s nothing sadder than watching a group of young children glued to their phones/tablets rather than playing, and socializing with each other.

2. Leonie Starr - February 10, 2015

If teachers use the tools of their trade to replace interpersonal interaction then we limit our students’ learning. Instead, we can use iPads/worksheets/base-ten to centre our interactions, language, elaborations and reflection.

3. gmcguire - May 30, 2015

Once upon a time … there was sand and a stick, and with the power of ponder and reflection, many great axioms arose from the sand to form a basis whereby wo/man could just start to make sense of the world around them. This **knowledge, study and learning** – mathema (Greek) was how wo/mankind tried to reckon with the world. It was the province of all people – not the possession of a few. Other civilisation had other ways of recording and communicating postulates.

Gradually this habit of “knowledge, study and learning” became known as **mathematics**, and wo/man had restricted rights to it due to social structure and government-power. Recently it was bundled up into a product called ‘Education’ whose 21st Century marketplace is the Internet with a brand name something like e-Education…..

Now, you should know where this story is going. The end is nigh and this fable concludes with two reflections:
A narcissistic digital-native looking into the water discovered a digital- captive the very image in her/himself.
In the not too distant past this land of milk ‘n honey executed a very big spend code-named **The Education Revolution**, a misnomer due to an error undetected by the spell checker. The original name was more appropriate: The Education Devolution (TED).

I totally agree that, while technology provides brilliant opportunities for T & L, its immersion into schools, the curriculum and the lunchbox (!) has been a gross disbenefit to schooling. There’s a nice paper “ICT for ICT’s sake ……” (ref. below)
That reminds me – millions of tax payers’ dollars were spent on the TTF project to ensure the ICTE immersion, with inadequate integration into the curricular, went as quickly as possible, and now the cycle continues “You’ve got to update the comms., the server, the software ….etc”.

We really should be asking: Why did the Aus. Gov. rush into the spending spree without due caution? There were plenty of independent evaluations in the literature.

Another essential item (ref below) that all teachers, parents and ministers for education should read is by Michael Trucano, Senior ICT & Education Specialist for the World Bank. Check his blog too – this man calls it as it is.

(1) Bertram, Adam, and Bruce Waldrip. “ICT for ICT’s Sake: Secondary Teachers’ Views on Technology as a Tool for Teaching and Learning.” Australian Educational Computing 28, no. 1 (2013). http://journal.acce.edu.au/index.php/AEC/article/view/9.

(2) Trucano, Michael. “Knowledge Maps: ICTs in Education-What Do We Know about the Effective Uses of Information and Communication Technologies in Education in Developing Countries?” Online Submission, 2005. http://www.infodev.org/articles/knowledge-maps-icts-education.

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