Blog Post #4 in the series "Finding Inspiration and Joy in the Words of Others"
We’re going to be able to ask our
computers to monitor things for us, and when certain conditions happen, are
triggered, the computers will take certain actions and inform us after the
the past few weeks, I have been wearing a fitness bracelet. I am still getting
used to its presence on my wrist, and my current skill set is limited to
reviewing my record of daily activity—specifically, number of steps taken and
calories burned—and my sleep patterns. These data are collected from the
bracelet through a smartphone app, and I will soon learn how to enter daily
nutrition data—including caffeine intake!—all in an effort to develop healthier
This gadget and its informative capabilities have caused me
to daydream about a bracelet that our students might wear, continuously
collecting data about their mathematical learning and habits. Before reading further,
ask yourself what this futuristic monitor might collect and organize for your
My daydreams envisioned a device that would—
- reveal how much time was spent on
a problem or assignment;
- report levels of engagement and persistence—incorporating
contributions from others, the use of various problem-solving strategies, and
intervals of subconscious processing;
- record connection-making moments
when links to the real world or to other mathematical ideas are activated; and
- assess strength of content
knowledge for a particular mathematical topic or area.
You get the idea. How would our classrooms change if students
were able to monitor and act on data such as these?
My daydreaming continued, and I created a second bracelet
for mathematics teachers to wear. Our bracelets would help us answer these
- To what extent do I provide equal
opportunities for every student to learn mathematics?
- How well (and how completely) do I
activate students’ prior knowledge before teaching my lesson?
- What are the different ways in which
I assess my students’ understanding throughout my lesson?
- How many minutes do I spend
talking? How many minutes do I spend listening?
- How many different representations
do I use in my lessons?
- How frequently do I make
connections within mathematics and to the real world?
- How prepared am I to teach my
Would you wear such a bracelet? What would you do with the
data and the trends that are provided to you?
In spite of Steven Jobs’s prediction, my fitness bracelet
cannot take the actions that the data and trend lines might suggest. (Will a
future version be able to zap my wrist when I reach for a second cookie?) At
present, the data-driven decisions are mine to make, and, as a result, I have
the power to develop and maintain the life habits that I desire. Wearing their
classroom bracelets, students and teachers would wield the same decision-making
powers about their mathematical and pedagogical habits.
Until these products of a summer daydream become a reality,
students and teachers have two tools that can be used to produce desirable
results in student achievement and teacher effectiveness. Metacognitive strategies invite students to monitor and become
engaged with their mathematical thinking and learning. For teachers, postteaching reflection—supported, when
possible, by data collected during the lesson—can provide the means to answer
the questions posed here. As is the case with my fitness bracelet, time and
commitment are required to monitor and develop lasting habits.
The power and the future are already in your hands!
Tom Evitts, TAEvit@ship.edu, is a
mathematics teacher educator at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania and is
the current president of the Pennsylvania Association of Mathematics Teacher
Educators (PAMTE). He is a frequent presenter at NCTM annual and regional
meetings and enjoys helping others find, make, and strengthen mathematical