Sunday, April 17, 2011

Geometry Software Showdown (Session 179)

Having spent the last twenty years of my career working on The Geometer’s Sketchpad, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the substance of Jeff Hall’s presentation comparing Sketchpad and GeoGebra. But I will say that I came out of the session reflecting on two related issues that I consider much more important than a feature-by-feature comparison.

  1. How do we bring the benefits of general-purpose interactive mathematics tools into as many classrooms as possible? Even when computers are readily available, it’s a challenge for many teachers to adopt the technology. How can others who see the value (whether fellow teachers, department chairs, or supervisors) support those who are reluctant, convince them that the use of such software is not an optional enrichment activity, but is essential to developing students’ mathematical reasoning? What features of the software itself help or hinder this effort?
  2. Related, how can we use such tools most effectively in developing students’ reasoning and sense-making, and how can we encourage students to incorporate the tools into their own mathematical repertoire, to turn to the tools on their own when they want to investigate a mathematical question? How can we best use them to stimulate students’ curiosity and to encourage them to write about and reflect upon the math?

Jeff’s session wasn’t designed to address either of these questions directly; I’m raising a different issue than the one he undertook.

But I do think these are the most important issues, and at the same time more difficult to address. Nobody has the answers, but I would certainly love to attend a session next year presented by someone with experience acting as a change agent, describing both successes and difficulties in related to these related issues. How can we best encourage reluctant teachers to use such tools and to use them most effectively in developing students’ reasoning and sense making? Any takers?


ClimeGuy said...

Scott writes: "How can we best encourage reluctant teachers to use such tools and to use them most effectively in developing students’ reasoning and sense making? Any takers?"

I'll take a stab at it. Your question is is right on target. It's exactly the one that I have been thinking about during my many years of doing professional development with math teachers trying to help them use their technology in the best way they can to get after the vision you imply in your question. Sometimes the software tools the teachers are given and required to use are not always the ones I would recommend, but I do the best I can with them. Though at times it does feel like I’m trying to make lemonade out of lemons - which I’m not always successful at doing. Which brings me to Sketchpad vs. Geogebra.

Next month my wife and I are going on vacation to Italy. Our first stop is Venice where I’m looking forward to a delightful journey through the canals of Venice. The last time I enjoyed a canal boat ride was when I was in San Antonio, TX for a conference. How will the two experiences compare I wonder? It will be interesting to reflect on the differences and similarities. But would I give a talk titled: Canal Showdown: Venice vs. San Antonio? I think not. Both have their charms and I will remember the experiences I had there and what I learned. I think the same thing is true with Sketchpad and Geogebra. Both have their strengths and limitations. Is Sketchpad "better" than Geogebra? Is Venice “better” than St. Antonio? It really doesn’t matter. Either one can be used very effectively in achieving Scott's vision. It all depends on the context in which it is used. Personally, I love Sketchpad and always have. Do I have some problems with it? Of course. On the other hand, I know several math teachers who I respect who love Geogebra and use it effectively with their students. And I think that is great.

I was pleased with Jeffrey Hall's presentation (though I would have preferred a different title.) It was an honest attempt on his part to compare the ways the programs were similar and he did a good job. He was helped by Scott who was in the audience helping to give a fuller understanding of the various fine points in how Sketchpad worked.

I admired this collaboration between Scott (an other members of the audience) and Jeffrey to help the attendees better understand the two programs so that they can make better informed decisions about which program to use in their schools so that their students get to experience the kind of mathematical thinking and exploration that dynamic geometric software makes possible.

Bitacora said...

well in response to your question, I think that by giving them and explaining to those reluctant teachers all the benefits of such tools and giving them time to assimilate them