Maybe Less Tech in Math and School?

I’m sipping hot sake while waiting for my food. I scan the restaurant, about half full already for an early Friday evening. Two kids are on their smartphones at the table with their parents. They don’t even look up as the waiter arrives to take their orders; I guess the parents already know what to order for them. At the next table, I see a young child sitting in his high chair and watching a video on a propped up smartphone. Nearly every kid in the restaurant is doing something on his/her phone. Never mind the adults.

This scene is all too familiar, too common — so common that it would be “odd” if we didn’t see this. And we’ve been seeing it for some time now.

I embrace technology like it’s the softest fluffiest stuffed animal. I need my laptop and cell phone — every goddamn thing is on them. (I still need a real book to read from, however, like this one that just came in the mail because the Internet said I should read it.)

But the restaurant scene is particularly jarring to me because I’ve always valued meal times as sacred, a time to say grace and connect, a time for storytelling, a time for pause and reflection. Dinner time is a time to be social. Ironically, our children are silent at the dinner table because they are on social media with 600 of their best friends. I’ve seen kids with earbuds on too while dining out with the family.

If children are plugged in at dinner time, then I’m going to assume that they are plugged in most of the time at home. This makes me wonder if schools should embrace less technology. I witness that we have over-digitalized everything, not because there was a critical consumer-ish need for it, but because we felt the weird need to do so. Recently, I tweeted this and meant every character.



We have an incredible privilege to reach our students in the space and time that we have them. I want them talking and interacting more than anything! Learning mathematics is a social endeavor. Here’s my perennial classroom routine, “Turn and talk with your neighbor.” I want to bring back the arts of speaking and listening, reading and writing, debating and presenting. Last week, Jennifer Wilson (you’re missing out if you haven’t heard Jennifer speak in person) wrote about how time is needed to develop MP3 in our students, “It takes time to determine the conditions for truth.”

I’m happy and grateful that technology is here to stay. But I hope we seek opportunities to connect more humanly.

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  1. Donna
    Posted March 17, 2018 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    Amen, Sista!

  2. Posted March 17, 2018 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    I loved your “knee jerk response” to the question “How do u incorporate tech into a lesson?” I don’t mind technology – in fact, I like it a lot in many ways and in many places. But in my classroom, I like to use it very judiciously. I teach English to grade 10 students who have already been placed in the “lower” track. Our classroom should be a place where showing up, being present, and sharing *matter*. Sure, they have plenty to learn about their phones (like what to believe), but our starting place for understanding others has to be the real people in front of us.

  3. Pamela Baker
    Posted March 17, 2018 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    Completely agree with you. I teach Geometry and find it completely fascinating that most geometric discoveries can be done without “technology”. I have tried to do a lot of explorations with paper folding, cutting and coloring. It amazes me that many of my 9th & 10th graders have not had the opportunity to “play” with paper. Also, I agree that Jennifer is great…she’s helped me a lot throughout the years.

  4. Posted March 17, 2018 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    Agree. This article acouple months ago reminds us also that the data being collected with that Tech usage may not be what we want!

  5. Posted March 17, 2018 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    If you’re using technology in math class in a way that isolates students, that doesn’t encourage collaboration and conversation, you’re using technology wrong.

  6. Posted March 17, 2018 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

    I read that book your ordered a few years ago. I couldn’t put it down. IT was so much fun. And relates to your post. But no spoilers from me.

    I used to thing the earbuds thing was fine. I see how listening to music helps center and calm the people in my family, every one of them but me. And I don’t want to hear what they are listening to, so earbuds seemed fine. Slowly, though, I’ve realized how technology both brings us together and isolates us. When we are with family at the dinner table with earbuds in, that’s isolating (and absolutely never happens at my dinner table.) And when I am in a car with my family and earbuds are in, I feel like I am being rejected if that’s the status quo. The unpleasant thing is, they can unplug and talk to me at random moments, but I can’t talk to them in a reciprocal kind of way, because the earbuds make it so they don’t hear me. I’ve slowly realized that I feel hurt by this unbalanced distancing. ON the the hand Fawn, when I get to see what you are doing, hear what you are thinking about, thousands of miles from me, and I can respond, then this tech stuff is such a gift, such a connector, so magnificent. I;m wondering if, as a culture, our initial infatuation with tech is beginning to pendulum back towards that which is less techy.(I was just in NYC for a few days, and I have, for years, been noticing what people do on the subway. During this trip I was surprised to notice that far fewer people seemed to be on their phones. & I’m seeing more books. )I love my phone like a fluffy stuffed animal too, but I’m not all in. Seems like it’s useful to think about when the tech can be magnificent and when it can be limiting. And I think it’s dangerous, yes dangerous for parents to let their children be plugged in during meal time: this sends a message to kids that they are not worth the parents’ time and attention. Oh, and special note/ question to Pamela Baker: do you share your paper folding geometry work anywhere on-line?

  7. Mike Larson
    Posted March 17, 2018 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, we’ve been talking about this a lot at our school lately. In short, I feel like part of the answer needs to be teaching kids how to harness technology but not let it run their lives. Is there a way to proactively teach as opposed to remove?

    But you are right. We’ve been lacking in human interaction and over delivering on tech skills in many cases. We need balance regulations!

  8. Cate
    Posted March 17, 2018 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

    You’re spot on about technology for technology’s sake. If we’re trying to cram it in for no reason other than it’ll make us look good, we’re really not fooling anyone. We’ll annoy the kids and frustrate ourselves. Of course there is plenty of good stuff out there, but it’s not helpful if it’s not integrated well. At best, it’s disjointed and incongruous. At worst, it wastes the kids’s time and ours.

    And in my family, screens are not allowed at the table. Ever. I tell my 6-year old, ” That’s not how we show each other we love and respect each other”. And I’m ok with that.

  9. Posted March 18, 2018 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    Well said, as usual, Fawn. In my role as math and technology coach, I had the opportunity to teach a number of math lessons at our high schools and only 1 had the students using tech because I felt like each had their own needs; technology doesn’t need to be one of them.

    Thank you for all that you do.

  10. Paula rager
    Posted March 19, 2018 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    Thank you so much! I totally agree. Math coaches from the district came in to watch different levels of math being taught.
    A common comment from the coaches was that they did not witness much technology being used!
    What was going on in the classroomsat that time? Were the students testing, working collaboratively or, as in the case of my classroom, was a topic being introduced for the first time!
    It matters the lesson is for that day and if technology can “enhance” the lesson. Once again, thank you

  11. Posted March 19, 2018 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

    We hold meal time as sacred, too, but it takes great effort to keep it that way. Your noticing makes me realize, though, that we expect more of ourselves conversation-wise and attention-wise when we are at home than we do when we are at a restaurant. I wonder why being together in public makes that different.

    Your post reminds me of a book my husband just finished by Sherry Turkle. Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age (
    I hadn’t connected what I can learn from this book to the expectation of accountable talk in a classroom until I read your post. So thank you. I’ve just moved the book to my bedside table.

    And thank you for your kind words, Fawn. I am grateful to get to learn alongside you.

  12. Larry Kelman
    Posted March 20, 2018 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

    You are right on, Fawn!

  13. Omar Ibarra
    Posted April 16, 2018 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    I also believe that technology can be more distracting than useful for students in some situations. Many times I’ve noticed students will just be on their phone on social media instead of participating in class. But, I believe that technology is beneficial in a classroom as it allows us to do things more efficiently and there are many great resources such as Desmos or Geobebra that when implemented right out weigh the possible distractions.

  14. Posted April 18, 2018 at 6:45 am | Permalink

    I teach computer science and before they can program on their computers they have to whiteboard their answers (usually in pairs) which is usually half of the class. It is exceptionally powerful to have this low-tech, collaborative visual thinking approach (thanks Alex Overwijk et al) in what is arguably the most tech heavy class in a school. One of my students got to visit the Google campus and he said there were whiteboards everywhere and you would walk by one of them and it would be empty and come back an hour later and it would be full.

  15. Eric Newman
    Posted May 3, 2018 at 1:40 pm | Permalink


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