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Towards a Coherent On-line Collection of Tools - What Do Math Teachers Want in the Product Line?

Jeremy Roschelle, Victoria Hand, Chris DiGiano, and the ESCOT Team

So far, we have been talking in the abstract about a product line for math teachers and using a grapher as an example of a product within the line. What does the whole product line look like? What products do math teachers want? In the rest of this column, we seek to answer this question.

Because of resource limitations and existing project funding priorities, we have focussed our analysis on middle school mathematics. This is a simpler place to start than undergraduate mathematics, yet there is still a considerable variety of tools that appear desirable to middle school teachers. Computer technology has become a mainstay in middle-school mathematics and science classrooms. According to a recent report by Becker, Ravitz and Wong (1999), more than 80% of secondary school classrooms have a student-computer ratio of 1-to-4. While this statistic is promising, a deeper look into classroom practices indicates that only one third of the teachers assign computer work to students on a regular basis.

The nature of software use in the classroom is also limited. For example, Becker, et al. (1999) also found that middle school mathematics classrooms more often employ skills-practice games (popularly known as "drill and kill") over more innovative, conceptually - rich types of software. This may be due in part to ease of compatibility with traditional mathematics curricula found in many classrooms; however, it is also reasonable to suggest that many teachers are unaware of or confused about where to find quality interactive mathematics software appropriate for their classroom needs.

In sum, while teachers, educational technologists, and researchers acknowledge technology's potential to complement classroom learning in powerful ways, we have yet to see the fruits of this union. We believe that it is a good time to begin thinking about what kinds of tools middle school teachers ought to have available.

For our analysis, we considered five sources of data (see Table 1):

  1. A survey posed to teachers who use the popular MathForum web site
  2. An analysis of technology use and opportunities for use in four recent mathematics curricula, performed by our partners at the Show Me Center
  3. A review of applets cataloged by the Educational Object Economy web site in the area of math education
  4. A review of components in our ESCOT project, which we collected for use in middle school math Problems of the Week
  5. A broad survey of technology use conducted by Becker and colleagues










On-line Questionnaire

Survey Questions:

  • What mathematics text(s) are you currently using in your classes?
  • Which mathematics software do you use in your classes?
  • Which of the following mathematics tools would be most useful for you?

Math teachers and students. (N=1080 (527 M, 553 F)

Show Me Center

Curricula Analyses

Current uses of technology tools.

Potential uses of technology tools.


  • -Connected Mathematics Project (CMP)
  • -Math in Context
  • -MathScape
  • -MathThematics


Applet Repository Review

Categorization of existing math applets



Math Components Review

Components used in the development of forty middle-school mathematics Problems-of-the-Week


Becker et al.

Technology Report



Table 1: Survey Data Sources

While our data sources are extensive and adequately represent the various perspectives in the field (e.g., teachers, developers, researchers, curriculum developers, etc.), we feel it important to mention that it does not capture the realm of technical and educational innovation. In other words, teachers' views on valuable resources are constrained by their potential to perceive innovative technical possibilities. (A good example of this is the possibility of integrating of web-based data collection tools with temperature or motion probes.) And, while technologists are generally on the cutting-edge of technical progress, they may not be familiar with reform movements in education that conceptualize learning and mathematical knowledge in new ways (e.g., collaborative learning, performance-based assessment). These two factors are cyclical in that each informs the other: technology can promote new ways of learning, and in turn, new concepts in education drive different computerized learning environments.

Jeremy Roschelle, Victoria Hand, Chris DiGiano, and the ESCOT Team, "Towards a Coherent On-line Collection of Tools - What Do Math Teachers Want in the Product Line?," Convergence (November 2004)


Journal of Online Mathematics and its Applications