using microcomputers with preservice teachers

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  • Using Microcomputers with Preservice TeachersAuthor(s): Thomas L. SchroederSource: The Arithmetic Teacher, Vol. 31, No. 5 (January 1984), pp. 4-5Published by: National Council of Teachers of MathematicsStable URL: .Accessed: 12/06/2014 18:26

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  • Teacher Education Using Microcomputers with

    Preservice Teachers By Thomas L. Schroeder

    University of Calgary, Calgary, AB T2N 1N4

    A pressing issue facing teacher edu- cators today is what work with micro- computers should be included in the program of preservice education for teachers. How we answer this ques- tion with respect to courses in mathe- matics education depends on our as- sessment of the skills, abilities, and attitudes we think future teachers need to develop and on such factors as the time and facilities available to us and the relationship of the mathe- matics course to the program as a whole - for example, whether the course is designed to deal with mathe- matics content or with the teaching of mathematics or with both. Although vast differences are bound to occur in the actions mathematics educators take in response to the needs and opportunities of their own situations, I believe whatever we do with micro- computers should be guided by the following three general consider- ations:

    1. We should provide information and experiences that will broaden stu- dents' horizons by making them aware of the scope and diversity of potentially worthwhile uses for com- puters with elementary schoolchil- dren and their teachers.

    2. We should ask questions that will help prospective teachers to become discriminating in selecting, designing, and implementing activities with com- puters.

    3. We should encourage and model positive yet realistic and open-minded attitudes toward computers and their use.

    Broaden students' horizons

    Many people, especially those who have limited experience with comput- ers, have serious misconceptions about educational computing. In our work with preservice teachers, we should be aware of these misconcep- tions and do what we can to help our students form balanced and realistic opinions.

    One misconception is that if we buy the right computer hardware and soft- ware, then computers will take over a large part of the teaching now done by teachers. This view needs to be chal- lenged. For one reason, it does not take into account the fact that teach- ing consists of a range of specific functions including diagnosing, ex- plaining, giving examples, providing practice, questioning, and testing (to name just a few) and the fact that computers are probably much better suited to some of these functions than to others. Furthermore, the task of using judgment to coordinate these functions and decide when and how much to perform each one is a task that today's microcomputer systems cannot claim to do well. A second reason to challenge this view of com- puters is based on Papert's (1980) often-quoted distinction between situ- ations in which "the computer pro- grams the child" and ones in which "the child programs the computer." I believe that use of appropriate courseware should not be glibly writ- ten off, but neither should it be the only use (or even the major use) that preservice teachers observe.

    Another misconception about edu- cational computing is that in order to

    use a microcomputer, both teachers and students will have to learn a great deal about computer programming, particularly about BASIC. When I first began planning and conducting microcomputer workshops for teach- ers, I unquestioningly assumed that the major component would have to be instruction in BASIC. Since then I have deemphasized programming to allow more time for considering other educational uses of computers and to ensure that students who are slow catching on to the language do not come to the conclusion that using the computer is not for them. In most courses we cannot expect to teach everything we would like to teach about a language, but we can provide brief but positive experiences that will make students want to continue learn- ing on their own.

    A third misconception has to do with the use of games. When we men- tion microcomputer games, many people will think first of arcade games like -Man and Space Invaders, and in this frame of mind some serious doubts and reservations about the educational value of games can be expected. Even if the games we advo- cate have more conspicuous mathe- matical content, a danger still exists that games will be valued mainly for the fun they offer. Teachers need to consider how they can capitalize on the mathematical experiences that gaming can offer. This approach means not only selecting games on the basis of the mathematical skills and concepts that are involved but also developing activities that will help children reflect on the mathematics they are learning and the problem

    4 Arithmetic Teacher

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  • solving that is involved in developing their own strategies for playing games.

    Finally, some people view using a computer as an antisocial activity that can be hazardous to the user's physi- cal and mental health. They fear that children will become hooked on tech- nology and turn into glassy-eyed zom- bies who only want to communicate with a machine. Although granting that this image may fit a few extreme cases, let us also take note of the positive effects that often result when two or more people work together at a microcomputer. My experience with children and with adults has been that both the quantity and the quality of interaction is high as the partners ask each other questions, make hypothe- ses and suggestions, and discuss not only what happens but also why. Two studies, mentioned by Sweetham (1982), suggest that children interact more and cooperate better in comput- ing activities than in regular class- room work. This finding may be due to a novelty effect, or it may be intrin- sic to the computer, but in either case the result is beneficial and ought to be experienced and encouraged.

    These and other misconceptions can be dispelled if we give our stu- dents a wide range of activities that mirror activities we believe are appro- priate for children who are learning with computers. Many examples of such activities are discussed in the February 1983 issue of the Arithmetic Teacher, which focuses on teaching with microcomputers.

    Ask questions The activities we provide for our stu- dents will form the basis for their answers to the question, "How can a microcomputer be used in teaching?" But just because an activity is possi- ble does not make it worthwhile. Oth- er questions must be asked to help students think clearly about the na- ture, the suitability, and the potential for effectiveness of the different uses for microcomputers that they experi- ence.

    In examining available software, some relevant questions include the following:

    What are the purposes of the pro- gram? (e.g., to develop understand- ing? to practice a skill? to promote problem solving? to diagnose stu- dents' needs?)

    What is the content of the program? Can it be adjusted? How? By whom? When and for whom would it be appropriate?

    What features of the program did you like or dislike? (e.g., personal- ization; the content, amount, and timing of feedback; sound; graphics; repetition; variation and branching; record-keeping features)

    On what basis should programs for computer-assisted learning be eval- uated and compared?

    When we consider computer gam- ing, additional questions are needed. Many games can promote reflective thinking and problem solving on the part of the players, but often a well- chosen and well-timed question is needed to facilitate this effect. For example, questions like "Does it mat- ter what move you make next?" and "What would be the best possible move you could make in this situa- tion? Why?" can help players recog- nize the need for a strategy and help them initiate the process of develop- ing, testing, and refining their strate- gies. These and similar questions are key elements of the activities that teachers should offer so that their students get the most benefit out of playing games. The questioning we do in teacher education courses should model the kinds of questioning we expect from our student teachers.

    The teaching of programming can also be approached through ques- tions; a major and recurring question is, "What commands can I give to the computer to get it to do what I want?" As future teachers consider the appli- cations of this general question to specific classroom situations, other


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