"Teaching and Learning with Dynamic Geometry Programs in Student-Centered Learning Environments: A Mixed Method Inquiry"
(Hannafin & Scott, 2001)

Emily Kennedy

This article seemed to be as much about open-ended learning environments (OELEs) as it was about technology. Teachers' reservations about using Sketchpad in their lessons mostly related to general fears about giving up control of the classroom. For instance, Karen, one of the teachers observed in the study, mentioned a "push" to cover everything that would be on the end-of-year Standord Achievement Test, and this time pressure seemed to be one of the hurdles keeping her from encouraging a student-centered learning environment. The researchers also note barriers put in place by parent expectations of what mathematics learning is. Parents who see their child coming home with more open-ended homework assignments rather than worksheets full of drills might be concerned about what their child is learning, since the parents themselves likely learned mathematics in a lecture-based manner. This is similar to the struggles many teachers have with implementing OELEs: because they didn't learn in such an open-ended enviroment, they are hesitant to teach in that way. The article says that "the task of chaning teacher attitudes about the school learning enviroment may be more difficult than researchers and educational reformers have presumed" (p. 121), and this is certainly evidenced both by the four teachers in the study and by my own observations in high schools. Although many traditionalist teachers speak positively about OELEs and are "almost apologetic" (p. 131) when they describe their own teaching practices, it is nonetheless extremely difficult to get some teachers to shake their practice up and begin teaching with a new perspective or philosophy. Certainly, there are teachers who are willing to try new things in the hopes of becoming a better teacher, but as the article states, there are too many who are complacent with their current teaching style and are hesitant to change it. This attitude is not entirely unreasonable, considering that teaching for conceptual understanding—particularly teaching in a strongly student-centered environment—is significantly more difficult than pure lecture. Asking students thought-provoking questions to guide them toward an answer requires a lot more preparation, restraint, and confidence in students from the teacher than does a simple, "Here's how, now practice" model of teaching. However, with appropriate teacher education and better standards (with less emphasis on a single multiple-choice test), I feel that more teachers would embrace and implement an OELE than currently do so.

I was also intrigued by the fact that the students' overall attitude toward the technology was so much more positive than the teachers' attitude. This is clearly a case where taking risks as a teacher can benefit the students: a teacher who, like these four teachers, was afraid or hesitant to use technology in the classroom would not have seen how well the students worked with it and how much they both learned from and enjoyed it. When I student taught, there were some activities that I was very nervous to try, but of those that I did get up the courage to try out with students, most yielded some pleasant surprises. For instance, on my first day alone with a substitute, I decided to try a direct variation lab with my Algebra I students. Because I'm far from being a great disciplinarian, I was somewhat afraid that the class would get unwieldy doing a lab without my mentor teacher around, but I gave it a shot anyway, and I was really pleased with the results! Again, although the point the article makes is about technology specifically, it can be extended to teaching in general.

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