Do the math: ETHS should integrate tablets into math classes

David Dupuis, Staff Writer

Technology is big. We carry supercomputers of epic proportions in our pockets. A few decades ago, technology with that kind of power would have taken up entire rooms and cost millions of dollars, but now, it’s available to us whenever we want.

Many of us probably remember the struggle of carrying stacks of papers to class every day. We had the work right in front of us, yes, but it was cumbersome. If something got lost, we’d have to search for it, usually to no avail. Papers could get ripped. They could get damaged. And who doesn’t remember the old “my dog ate my homework” excuse? Even today, we still get papers, but not as much as before.

Now, we have Chromebooks. Most of our work is now online, and the old paper and pencil have been largely retired from use. Instead of having binders full of papers, everything we need is stored online. No more paper, no more notebooks, no more binders: just clean, easily accessible Google Drive. Well, almost.

There is one subject which is always said to be a “pen and paper” endeavor. It is said that you can’t do it on a computer, and as a result, most of the work is provided the old-fashioned way. It isn’t without reason either; doing math in a Google doc just isn’t really possible without some major headaches. Even though math programs exist on the Internet, one can’t simply work through a math problem like they would a history or English question.

But how true is this today? Just a few years ago, it was a crazy thought to be issued a computer by the school and have it be your computer for four years. Now, we have computers with us everyday, and digital work is the new norm. Nearly every subject is managed through Google Classroom now, leaving math as the odd one out, so to speak.

Chromebooks may not be “math devices,” but tablets, such as iPads and Microsoft Surface tablets, certainly can be. Aside from the obvious inclusion of a touch screen and stylus support, there are apps dedicated to math, such as IXL, which provides an interface for both learning and working with math problems. Even if apps like IXL didn’t exist, there are still note taking apps such as Notability, which work perfectly as virtual notebooks.

Another reason to integrate tablets into math is, well, mistakes. In math, we make mistakes, that much is a given. For that reason, we are told to stock up on pencils and erasers because pen isn’t easily erasable. And yes, this is all well and good; we should be able to erase our mistakes and try again if we need to. The problem is that erasing can get messy, pencils can break, paper can be ripped, and some erasers just flat out don’t work, not to mention that all of this stuff costs money. Tablets don’t have those problems. Once you have a tablet and a stylus, the possibilities are endless. No pencils to buy, no paper to remember, and no erasers to bring: just stylus support and a handy-dandy undo button.

David Chan, the director of instructional technology at ETHS, shares similar sentiments towards this kind of technology. He believes that Google apps (Classroom, Drive, etc.) make everything a lot easier, both from a hardware and software point of view: they’re lightweight, easy to use, and everything is instantly accessible through them. He also says that the integration of tech into math isn’t at all a far fetched idea, stating that the school is actually very close hardware-wise to such integration, with some teachers already using touchscreen Chromebooks as a “pilot” program. As you can see, all of these technologies exist; it’s just a question of implementing them.

There is no doubt that integrating iPads, or even touch screen Chromebooks into math classes would be a change, both financially and mentally. Besides the premium one pays for a touch screen device, such integration would require a significant change for math teachers. There is always the possibility for technology to break or otherwise stop working, and repairs for such can be costly. But, in the end, one must think about what technology is doing for the future. The paper and pencil are going away in favor of cloud storage, styluses and touch screens. Our backpacks are getting lighter as textbooks go online and become obsolete in physical form. Math is one of the few remaining subjects that require a binder, but it doesn’t have to be. If this transition is made, it may not be overnight, and it may not even take a year. But the benefits we gain from it will last long into the future, creating convenient, easy to use, clean ways that work for us all.