I am finishing up teaching polynomials to my Algebra 2 classes. We are discussing the Rational Root Theorem (i.e. p's and q's) right now. When I presented the material on Friday, I went through the whole process - finding the factors of p, finding the factors of q, finding the p/q values and testing using synthetic division. As much as I like doing synthetic division, I had forgotten how frustrating this process is for students - it is tedious and they know by now that they can find the zeros by finding the x-intercepts of the graph.
So, as I reflected over the weekend and into this morning, I decided when I assess them on this learning target, I am only going to ask them to identity the factors of p and q and the p/q values. I am not going to ask them to fully find the zeros of the polynomial from that list. The more I thought about it, the more it became clearer to me that if they were going to have to find zeros from a polynomial students would have access to technology (such as a graphing calculator or Desmos). As I was working with students today and reflecting on this learning target, I kept coming back to this question: How do we determine when it is important to have students do the processes by hand versus using technology instead? Is it really important to have students find all the zeros by hand? I had to (granted, the first easily available graphing calculators came out when I was a senior in high school) - so why shouldn't my students have to? (note - I know that's not a good reason why, just throwing my thoughts out there.)
This question is not new to me. I have wrestled with it on and off throughout my teaching career. When students have graphing calculators that can do things like graph and find zeros and maxima and minima, etc., this question returns often. However, this year, I have a mixed bag as far as who has a graphing calculator and who does not. With having (4) computers in the classroom, Desmos has been a nice addition and is far less clunky in identifying intercepts and extrema. From the bits and pieces I have caught from tweets, Desmos continues to improve and everything I have seen from them shows that they are incredibly responsive to its users (and teachers!) Bob Lochel addressed the TI vs. Desmos issue in his blog post this weekend "An Open Letter to My TI Friends." I have to say that even though I have not received quite the training and benefits that Bob has from TI, I found myself really agreeing with every point that he made in his Dear TI letter. (Go read it if you haven't already - it's worth it!) But once again, not everyone has access to the technology in my classes. We are not a 1-to-1 school, I don't have a class set of iPads or tablets or even graphing calculators. My classes range from about 30% to 50% of my students having a TI graphing calculator. I have students who do have smartphones, but they are not allowed to use them in school. I'm already starting to think about next year and how I'm going to deal with the whole technology issue. Do I have my students all get TI graphing calculators, full well knowing that many of them will not use them after my class? Do I skip the graphing calculators and find a way to work with Desmos, knowing that I have 4 computers in my class and that's it? Do I try to find funding for a class set of graphing calculators? Tablets?
But I digress from my original query. I have taught for 21 years and this is the same question that I had when I first started teaching with TI graphing calculators then. At what point do you push aside the by hand processes and let the technology take over? Are you shorting students mathematical learning by doing this or is it enhancing it? How do you structure lessons so that the technology enhances the mathematics rather than glosses over it? I'm curious to see what you all think. Please share your thoughts in the comments. Thanks!