Equity and Technology

I’ve been thinking a lot about equity in the classroom. As I mentioned, one of the hot buttons for me as we work through the textbook adoption process is technology. In short, my students don’t have it, and our school has so little technology that  digital resources are essentially useless.

This started with calculators in my classroom. I allow them. The school has TI-Nspire calculators, but they are only for the IB students and the Pre – IB Algebra 2 students. So regular Algebra 2 students and all other students don’t get school issued calculators.

That means that if the students want to use a calculator, they have to provide one themselves. This is a student population that has difficulty providing pencils sometimes. So getting a calculator, even at the dollar store, is impractical. I buy them myself and sell them at a loss (fifty cents for a calculator that I spent a dollar on).

So not every student has  a calculator. But the Geometry and Algebra 2 Texts are written with the assumption that all kids have a calculator (the Algebra 1 text less so). This means I have to skip some practice problems and activities, and substitute ones that don’t use a calculator or are less challenging.

Now take this situation and amplify it. That’s the situation with technology. This came up last week as we got presentations from the two textbook publishers whose Integrated Math 1 products have made the final cut in the adoption process. One had a huge number of digital resources – some of them really great. And if we chose to pilot their program rather than adopt it, they would be willing to provide all those digital resources to every math teacher in the district.

Which would be great, but my computer at school constantly freezes up and can barely handle the programs I run on it now. For student use, there is only one laptop cart for an SLC of twenty-two teachers. If I want to use, for example, GeoGebra with the students on the laptops, I have to log to each computer to download the program using the very slow school network. As soon as we log off at the end of class, GeoGebra is automatically wiped from the laptops. The whole process needs to be repeated the next time they’re used.

The end result is that I don’t do technology activities with my students – ever. It’s just too much bother. I realize that it is my responsibility to figure this out, and probably waste a few class periods while I’m at it, but the benefit doesn’t seem to outweigh the hassle.

There are more repercussions as well. For example, flipped classrooms are all the rage right now. But a flipped structure is impossible for my students, most of whom don’t have internet at home. They have smartphones but they aren’t allowed in class (for very good reasons that I agree with, but that I won’t get in to right now) and again, it’s an equity issue since only some of the students have them. Ditto for Khan Academy or any other digital resource.

Digital education resources are out there. They may be great. They may be exactly what my disadvantaged students need. But my students, my school, and my district are too disadvantaged to utilize them. And the achievement gap grows.