Friday, November 23, 2007

Re-engineering the Math Classroom (textbook technology)

The textbook vendors are really coming around with technology support. McDougal-Littell writes the textbooks we use for most of the math classes at my high school. I just spent some time with my rep at a recent math conference. I was amazed to hear what they have to offer. They have an online system at their web site that can be used for quizzing students online or for assigning homework online. They also offer such expected things as an online graphing calculator.

I also inquired about newer, better test generators and they had a pleasant surprise. I had recently tried out the new test generator provided with some new textbooks we received, but a found it lacking. It was way too slow on my old dinosaur computer. And it was slow compared to the older test generator that I had been using. The only reason I was interested in a new test generator was because the old one didn't have enough questions to cover all the topics that we covered in the book. Also, I was hoping for more algorithmically generated questions versus static, database questions.

Well, I got lucky. Even though we had only recently received the new test generator, there was an even newer one that the vendor had available. They demonstrated it to me and it was awesome. It was fast and full of nice features. It did seem to lose some of the older features that I liked, but it had some cool new ones.

However, back to the online homework/assessment system. Over the years, I have used diagnostic exams from the Mathematics Diagnostic Test Project (MDTP) from University of California. They offer a nice set of tests that can be used for diagnostics, but also for benchmarking. Where are your students at when you first meet them and how do they improve after you're done with them? Well, the textbook vendor came up with an online assessment system that automatically diagnoses student weaknesses and then allows you, the teacher, to generate a list of remediation assignments and it will even let you pull together the files for the assignments and either print them or email them to the student!

These types of technology are bound to make teaching better and more efficient.

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