Monday, October 8, 2007

Arrested Development: How TI teaches the TI-Navigator without really trying

Is it too much to ask that TI presenters actually know how to use TI equipment and have it fully functioning and prepared before we start a workshop? It’s their job! School districts across the Valley are paying thousands upon thousands of dollars for these trainings and expect to be overwhelmed with the shear amount of fun, engaging TI-Navigator activities I can do with my students.

Yet we spent three hours Friday morning updating the operating system on the TI-84 Plus Silver calculators because TI-Navigator needs the latest operating system to run. The network hubs weren’t fully charged. There weren’t enough calculator-to-computer USB cables. Our presenter couldn’t even get her TI-issued laptop to connect to the Internet without a technician coming in to do it for her! After lunch on both days, we were given the rest of the day to peruse the TI website and find activities we can use in class (read: we do the work that the presenter is being paid to Saturday, one of my colleagues was in a different room where the Navigator system wouldn’t work at all—they were given “free time” all day!

Education consultants are smart only in the sense that they realized they could make more money being a lousy teacher for other teachers than being a lousy teacher for students. The term “consultant” makes me cringe because of the implications it carries—money being given to opportunistic former teachers and their enablers (corporations), with very little trickle down to the classroom.

The problem is that there’s very little accountability for most presenters. As long as they convince teachers that they’ve given them something useful (thick binders or packets with a colorful cover page are a good start), be overly nice to everyone, and say things like “I know we told you we were getting out at 3:30pm, but I’m going to let you go early today” before the end of the session, they’ll get a positive evaluation from almost all attendees. Teachers themselves won’t stand up and complain about useless workshops because they don’t want to get on the wrong side of the administration and they’re often content if they’re getting some sort of credit (professional development hours, stipends, etc).

Thus there is a self-fulfilling prophecy: teachers don’t expect much, presenters don’t present much, and the administration happily schedules them year after year (or worse, month after month).

That’s not to say I didn’t learn anything or don’t have anything useful to share here (besides constructive criticism of professional development opportunities). Activity Center, software that comes with the Navigator system, was the focus of our second day of training. There is a graph mirroring the calculator’s graph where students can:

  • Move a cursor around the screen to identify quadrants or coordinate points
  • Model a linear relationship – Give each student a number, and have them move their cursor so that the x-coordinate is their number and the y is half that number and introduce slope. Similarly, you could then have them move to their x-coordinate for their special number with a y that is 3 less than their number to introduce y-intercept.
  • Create any kind of graph – Keeping with the special number idea, you can have students create a series of linear equations with gradually increasing slopes and y-intercepts or quadratic equations that get wider and wider or move up and down the y-axis (and face up or down as well).
  • Make connections to geometry – You can place an image as the background of your y-axis and have students try to figure out lines to match parts of the image. Alternately you can use the axes to help figure out the ratio of two items in a picture.

TI-Navigator has some excellent features that will definitely be engaging and help my students understand certain concepts better. Unfortunately, my presenter had to take this too far when she kept repeating that “research is showing test scores going up all across the country when TI-Navigator is used” and that we needed to use this technology every single day. Both of these statements are ridiculous.

Research has shown time and time again that the number one predictor of student success is teacher quality, not more money and more technology. Often districts that spend more money per student are the lowest performing on standardized tests. As for the need to use this every single day, you can’t use any method every day. Like any other engaging method, the novelty is lost after too much use. That’s not to say this shouldn’t be something teachers know how to use and use regularly, just not daily.

Considering I still have several more days of TI-centered training, I certainly hope their presenters figure out how to use the technology they’re selling us.