05 November 2012

I Will Never Go Paperless

I love calculators, iPads, and smartpens, but even my favorite note-taking app will never take the place of a piece of paper and a pen or pencil.

I really enjoyed this post last Friday on LifeHacker, Three Ways I've Simplifed Using Pen and Paper Instead of Technology

The author was making his case as a writer and for his personal life, but the key points are applicable to math class and instruction, as well.

1. "Writing Out Lists Embed Them In Your Memory"

I'm not usually one to make my students write everything out by hand just to fill class time and keep the chatters busy (although I used to be, LOL), but through my own personal experience, I know there's a space in pedagogy for the muscle memory and learning environment triggers to writing out postulates, theorems, and examples before starting problem solving. It's not the best, but I believe hand-note-taking is a kinesthetic activity, as well, solidifying memorization through movement, hearing, and sight.

I like to do this in my personal journal with quotes or scripture I want to let sink in a bit more than just copy and pasting text in electronically. If a strategy doesn't even work for me as a learner, then you'll have no confidence in it for your students

2. "Paper Gives You More 'Room' to Explore"

Which is more inviting - a blank sheet of paper, or a blank word document? For some there may be little difference, but I much prefer the sheet of paper. As soon as I sit down to a keyboard (or even a notetaking app) I inherently begin to think about formatting and how I'll fit the spacing of my lines and paragraphs. Sometimes I prefer landscape "mode" to portrait.

The extra demon of doing even preliminary math work via technology is that (even though we're working on tablets now) an already abstract study in variables and functions is compounded with an extra layer of abstractness between the learner and the learning he/she is trying to build or exhibit. Using equation editors and mathematical programming language is an important skill for our students, but its digital noise when introduced too early.

For digital interactive notebooks this means I would much rather have students keep work and scratch on paper and then consolidate it all into Evernote. This works out most conveniently for students uploading their group work or homework to their Evernote accounts since we had a cart environment. Students don't often have access to Evernote at home, and spending the extra time to type their work on the iPad is a distraction to the actual learning outcomes I want for them.

3. "Writing Slows You Down"

The Lifehacker author points out on this one that giving up the technology for writing quiets distraction and forces you to focus on the task at hand with dedicated, power-thoughts.

Right now I'm streaming a recent Mizzou Men's Basketball game on espn3.com, have 2 different email tabs, a facebook tab, and my wife would usually be watching something on the TV. There's a lot going on. I love the ritual of sitting down to write. ::Just had to silence the basketball game; I was having trouble finishing this paragraph. LOL:: There's never been a time I presented a worse lesson, led a less effective discussion, or was less persuasive in a speech because I was intentional about writing it out first.

Having your students write in math class gives some permanence to what they say. Writing my reasoning of a process requires that I'm thoughtful of the words (vocab) I'm using and the sequencing of my words and phrases. I freaked out a lot of my students a couple years ago because I started asking, "Why?" every time they gave an answer, and for awhile they thought they were wrong because I wanted to know what they were thinking. Even then, however, I let them off the hook too frequently with a "You know what I meant" kind of answer. You know, the vague answer that using lots of "this" and "that," and is less evident of learning.

What about you? Do you ever feel the same way? Do you think the process of romanticizing pen and paper will eventually alienate me from my students?

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Thanks for sharing!