An Interview with Tamzon Reed-Hamilton: Educational Technology in the Classroom

Jun 20, 2011 by

Michael F. Shaughnessy
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, New Mexico

 

 

  1. Tammy, you have a master’s degree in Educational Technology. Tell us about some of the most important courses that you have taken.

 

The most important courses I have taken are the courses that dealt directly with my learning how to use various technology equipment. Specifically, SmartBoard technology training, Turning Point technology training, Power-Point training, graphing calculator training, and Web page design.

 

  1. Now, what subject or subjects do you teach and how do you personally integrate technology into your content area?

 

I currently teach Algebra 1 and Algebra 2. When I first began teaching 16 years ago, I used chalk and chalkboard! I got so tired of rewriting the same thing over and over 6 periods a day! So, I went to using an overhead projector and used transparencies with the material I wanted to cover printed on them. Math is a very sequential curriculum, and many of the concepts are solved using a step-by-step process. Transparencies did cut down on the amount of repeat writing I had to do, but a student looking at all of the steps at once wasn’t very effective for thier comprehension. Many students are intimidated by math textbooks for the same reason: “reading” math is difficult. So the first piece of technology I sought out was to remedy this problem, PowerPoint was perfect! PowerPoint with its animation capability allows students to see the problem solved one step at a time. I can stop at each step and elaborate, ask questions, and check for understanding. Creating these lessons that showed every step of solving Algebra problems was quite time consuming, but SO worth it to see the difference in student comprehension and retention!

 

The good news is that having to do all of that work by hand is no longer necessary, most textbook companies now have similar materials to enhance their textbooks. Our math program uses Glencoe textbooks, at our last adoption, the textbooks came with a CD called “ChalkBoard” which has a PowerPoint for each lesson with animated examples of the problems for that lesson. My next issue was how to present? Projecting the PowerPoint lessons was awesome, but I was still limited in that I could not add to the animations that I had built in.

 

I am very fortunate to work in a school district that believes in integrating technology in the classroom. When they asked for volunteers for Smart Classrooms I was first in line! This technology is AMAZING! Anything that I can do on my computer including Internet can be projected onto the SmartBoard. It is touch screen, so I can be in front of the class and not behind my computer to navigate. I can write on it just like a chalkboard or white board without the chalk or markers. As I go through my presentation, I can stop and check for understanding and add writing, drawings, and notes to ensure student understanding which can be different for each class. I can set the pens to any colors I choose, which aides in the students’ ability to differentiate one step from the next.

The next concern I had was my students practicing what they were learning. Turning Point technologies is perfect! I create a 5 problem multiple choice practice session (I call it click-it exercise) for every lesson that I teach. The students work the problems on paper but answer using their individual response device. I can see the percentage of students who answered correctly, and the percentage of students who answered the 3 wrong answers. This technology gives me instant feedback as to how well my students understand. The student has instant feedback as well, they know instantly if they were right or wrong. After teaching Algebra as many years as I have, I have learned the mistakes commonly made, so I gear my answers to address these common errors. I can then decide whether to go over the problem, re-teach the concept, have students come up and show their method of solving, or go on to the next problem! I can later create a printout of individual scores giving me data for each individual student! This data is very useful for planning, remediation, and re-teaching.

 

I also have a classroom set of TI-83 graphing calculators that the students use every day. This technology allows students to “see” the math we ask them to do. This is very powerful especially in an abstract curriculum like Algebra!

 

Finally, I needed a way to reach the students who have chronic absenteeism, and the student who just needs to see it more than once. My answer was creating a webpage! All of my lessons, and any other information I want students and parents to have access to are available on my website!

 

3) What is the overall student reaction?

Students absolutely love technology; it is in every aspect of their lives, so it only makes sense that it is part of their learning environment. Students are more focused, participate more, and most importantly understand the material better! I firmly believe that people in general, not just students, really won’t learn something that is not somehow meaningful to them. Let’s face it, I teach a subject that many students don’t like. It’s not easy to learn something you don’t even like. So, if I can incorporate something that they are interested in, something that they are comfortable with and that they do like, chances of them learning increase ten-fold!

 

4) Do students seem to respond better to visual or auditory types of technology?

 

I think visual technology. However, auditory is important also. Most of the technology I incorporate in my teaching is visual and I truly believe that it has made a huge difference in student performance. Other disciplines have more opportunities to use more auditory types of technology. Many of my colleagues use the Internet to enhance their curriculum, the possibilities there are endless! I occasionally use the internet to show students why math is important, careers related to math, and even various sites they can go to for help. Again, most textbooks also offer online resources for both the teacher and the students! With the SmartBoard, we can explore these resources together as a class.

 

5) Difficult question- how do you keep up with the constant changes in technology?

 

For me technology is fun, so I am constantly on the look-out for things that make teaching and learning more interesting and more fun. Sometimes, technology is overwhelming and frustrating. There are times that I try some things, and have to re-think, try it differently, spend agonizing time on the phone with tech support , but it has been my experience that in the end, it makes teaching easier, not more complicated.

Most importantly, to not use technology to teach students who live in a technology rich world will not prepare them for the world we want them to succeed in! Interestingly, my students are the ones who often help teach me the technology I am trying to use, and that makes them feel really good! I stopped using tech support as much and started asking my students instead!

 

Colleagues discover things all the time, teachers are infamous from stealing, I mean sharing from each other! For example, in doing this interview, I just learned about Media Site and am very excited to look at the technology more in depth!

 

6) I have just learned about Media Site- are you familiar with this and how would it be used ?

 

I am not familiar with Media Site, but after reading this question my curiosity was stirred, and I had to do a little research and have to say I want to learn more! I have been interested in webcasting for awhile now. I have messed around a little bit with this but have not been impressed with the technology available so far. Media Site looks promising!

 

Media Site looks like a great way to record presentations and make them available for students, and even their parents who are trying to help their child with math. As I mentioned earlier, absenteeism and the fact that some students just need to see something more than once to master a skill demands our attention, and webcasting is perfect for these students!

 

7) Do you use Ipod or Ipads and how much training do teachers need in this realm?

 

I have had my Ipad now for about 6 months and am still playing around with it to figure out all the things I am going to be able to do with it! I think that there needs to be more resources, materials, and training on using Ipads and Ipods in education. I honestly just do a lot of searching for educational apps, and have just recently learned about the KeyNote presentation app. I absolutely think these devices can be utilized very effectively in education. I actually have a colleague who is currently working on developing Algebra and Geometry apps for the Ipad. I believe we will be seeing a lot more education related materials for the Ipad and Ipod very soon.

 

8) How much time does the average teacher need to keep current on all this technology?

 

For me personally, I do a lot of my research, playing, and planning during the summer. I hear about or find things that I think will be useful in the classroom all year long, but I don’t usually try to integrate them into my classroom routine until I have had time to really play with and get to know the technology. I have found that using technology just for the sake of using technology can be disastrous. Students love technology, but they have little patience when it doesn’t “work”. As easily as technology can grab a student’s attention and facilitate in their learning and comprehension, technology can just as easily lose a student if trying to make the technology work is more complicated than the material they are trying to learn! To use technology in the classroom effectively, the user HAS to be prepared!

 

9) I use SKYPE to communicate face to face- are there any pros and cons about this medium?

 

I love SKYPE technology! I mostly use it with nieces and nephews needing help with their math homework, but have some former students who have went on to college. They will SKYPE me so that I can help them with their math as well. This technology is extremely useful when trying to help someone with math. It is very hard to “explain” a math problem without being able to show the process! SKYPE makes it possible for the person on the other end to see and hear how to solve a problem! As SKYPING becomes more popular, I fully expect to be using this technology with many more of my students to help them succeed in math.

 

10) What have I neglected to ask?

I think I would just like to add that technology can greatly enhance both the teaching and learning experience, but cannot stand alone. In my 16 years of teaching, my philosophy has become that students in general will not learn things that are not meaningful or relevant to them personally in some way. Any technique, tool, or curriculum that can make the material meaningful to their audience is therefore necessary. Technology is definitely a tool that will pull students in. I have students that won’t open their textbook, won’t do their homework, and do nothing outside of the classroom to succeed in Algebra, but while they are in class they are some of the most engaged; they want to use the SmartBoard, they are excited about the graphing calculators, and they are very competitive with the click-it exercises that was mentioned earlier. Technology in the classroom has really made a difference for many of these non-performing students. I have parent’s tell me all the time that it is the first time their son/daughter has shown any interest or progress in math!

On a side note, not necessarily technology related, but I would like to share a technique that I have found to be extremely successful in making material meaningful and relevant to students that technique is story-telling. I use “story-telling” in combination with technology to teach most Algebra concepts. Some examples are: Lion-King for solving equations, the WOO song for factoring, the drop, drop, keep dance for absolute value equations, and crack house for distributive property. As mentioned earlier, technology can’t completely replace teaching, but can greatly enhance it! Other teachers constantly tell me, I knew Johnny had you for Algebra 1, he tells your stories. I frequently have students who come back and visit tell me that they use my stories in their college math courses to get through it! I’ve been encouraged to write a book of my Algebra stories, be on the look-out for it, some of these stories have stayed with my students for years after graduation!

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    I remember going to college with Tamzon, she had incredible energy back in the day and that energy has carried her forward to be a true asset to the educational community. I’m honored to read her theories of teaching and how she keeps her students engaged.

    Be safe Tamzon.

    Tiny…

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