And the winner is…

Well, winner may be too strong of a word. There were three things that struck me at FETC last week in Orlando. So instead of a winner, these are some trends I noticed during the conference. These are just my impressions and do not represent a scientifically based random sample. They’re just three things that stood out to me.

More Math. Without actually counting and comparing, it seems like there were more math applications available in the vendor exhibits. That’s not a bad thing. Perhaps the not-so-distant release of the report from the National Math Panel in conjunction with dismal math scores on state and national exams has prompted more math curriculum content and tools. In addition to commercial products, I attended an interesting session by Dr. Ted Hasselbring from Vanderbilt University. I know of Dr. Hasselbring’s reputation as an expert on the use of assistive technologies, but he released some new research in the area of math.

Ted (I’ve worked with him, so I don’t think he’ll mind me calling him Ted) reported some interesting findings from working with young students and those with learning disabilities around math. These are some interesting things I learned:

  • Everyone can do math. It’s a capability that is hard-wired into our genetic make-up. That means that there are many reasons why people come to think they “can’t do math,” and many of them can be experiential, or the lack of experiences that promotes inherent math ability.
  • Approximate number sense (ANS) is the ability to be able to compare groups and know which has more. ANS is shared by infants, adults, and animals. For example, if a pack of wolves meets another pack in the woods, the wolves can determine which pack is larger (which has all kinds of implications for fighting or fleeing). Many special education students have difficulty with ANS, but it can be taught!
  • Another foundational math skill Ted identified is subitizing, which is the ability to recognize the actual number of items in a group. He suggests that, “Just as phonemic awareness is a prerequisite for reading, subitizing may be a prerequisite for succeeding in math.” Subitizing, too, may be a teachable skill and technology is an especially effective way to learn it.

It was a very interesting presentation that has implications for math instruction as well as areas beyond math, such as comparing novice and expert performance in any domain, whether learning a language, dribbling a basketball, or other area. His session was videotaped and I hope you can view it soon from FETC.

Florida is Mac Territory. Those of you who know me will think this is my biased perception, but really, I’ve never seen so many Macs in one place at the same time. It first struck during one of my “ergonomic breaks” between sessions. Sitting on benches between the restrooms were five different people with laptops. Four out of 5 were Macs. I thought it might make a good picture, especially for some less Mac-lightened folks I know, but it caused me to start looking. Almost every session I attended was run on a Mac (except my own! because I used Qwizdom personal responders. How’s that for irony?). I attended two sessions that included a visit to Second Life and both were run by Macs. I saw them just about everywhere, except, not so much on the vendor floor. Interesting. I’ll have to see how that compares to ISTE this summer.

It’s a whiteboard world. It seems like the most common technology at the conference, whether hardware or software, was interactive whiteboards. There were whiteboard vendors, whiteboard resellers, whtieboard gizmos, professional development for whiteboards, and tools to simulate whiteboards so you didn’t even need to buy a whiteboard. Whiteboard vendors, like Promethean and Smart, also offered whiteboards for presenters in their rooms (as did makers of student response systems, like Qwizdom, whch provided responders for my own session). I’m not sure of the implications of the plethora of whiteboards. Maybe they are being seen as the de facto tool for classroom teachers in the 21st Century. I just hope we all get training on them so we use them to their best advantage instead of seeing them being used as expensive screens or, even worse, as room dividers. Honest! It wasn’t even plugged in, and that was during a school visit, not the conference.