In your time as an educator, how have you seen a difference in your students when using “hands on” tools?

The biggest difference I have seen in my students is the willingness to be incorrect. With hands-on tools, they are able to explore without the pressure of having one right answer in mind. Those tools also give them an opportunity to communicate their thought process in unique ways. Paper and pencil lead to students responding in an algebraic or mechanical method (just showing the steps), while hands-on tools allow them to give visual representations of their thought process more easily and with a less rigid explanation medium. This can enable students of varying learning abilities and styles to successfully express themselves and show their comprehension of the subject matter.

Why is incorporating digital technology in math courses so important?

Digital technology allows students to engage in content in a multitude of ways. It allows them to communicate in methods that they prefer and express their thoughts in more dynamic ways than simply turning in a piece of paper. Additionally, technology supports accessibility, which provides a way for all students to engage with content and empowers them to give their point of view. Finally, technology helps students share their solution methods with their peers, creating a flat classroom where the teacher is not the only source of information. Multiple points of view are always greater than one.

What do you hope the future looks like for digital integration into STEM classrooms?

I would hope that every STEM classroom fully integrates digital technology into their core experience. I do think there is value in using traditional paper and pencil at times, but it should no longer be the main medium for showing work. Technology can help augment the problem solving skills we are trying to encourage in our students and can help focus our discussions on the “why” of what is going on with the STEM content as opposed to the notation, vocabulary and mechanical steps of problem-solving. Technology empowers students to show their thinking in multiple ways and bring in resources and people from outside of the classroom. This can only enhance the learning experience for students.

Young girls have often been deterred away from interest in STEM at a young age. What can educators do to encourage engagement and involvement?

Encouraging young girls to engage in STEM is where we as a society need to be focusing our attention. There are already some great initiatives out there, which show young girls that they can and should be interested in STEM, like Girls Who Code and Hour of Code. But as educators, it is our responsibility to help amplify the message that it is natural and necessary for girls and women to be powerful leaders in STEM. We need to ensure that they feel comfortable in coding clubs and validate their responses in math class. In my experience, girls and young women have always been some of my strongest students, yet they still feel like outliers. This should not be the case. We need to shake the stereotype of the geeky boy that grows up to be Bill Gates. Why shouldn’t it be the smart girl that grows up to be Sheryl Sandberg? In relation to technology in the classroom, while digital tools can be beneficial to all students, I believe they can play a particularly valuable role in helping female students connect with STEM. Technology creates more ways to engage with content and express one’s thinking. Simply by opening up the possibilities of interacting with STEM concepts, we are already breaking down the stereotypes of what it means to be “good” at those subjects. We all need to create a safe space for girls to flourish in STEM and can’t afford to let their unique perspectives and solution methods go unheard. Technology, which encourages multiples means of expression, can support this initiative.