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Technology as the Key to Math

Numbers loom large in Virginia L. Thompson's life. Thompson is the youngest girl among 11 siblings -- the last to leave home and the first to complete a doctoral degree in higher education.
Technology as the Key to Math
Virginia L. Thompson, Ed. D., Math Education
Numbers loom large in Virginia L. Thompson’s life.
Thompson is the youngest girl among 11 siblings -- the last to leave home and the first to complete a doctoral degree in higher education. 
She is married and the mother of three children -- her youngest born on May 20th,  2009, the day she was supposed to be getting the doctoral degree it had taken her seven years to complete.
But most of all, Virginia L Thompson is a mathematics educator – a substitute assistant professor of Mathematics and Computer Sciences at CUNY York College who believes that technology can be used as tool to help students discover mathematical concepts and achieve high performance results.
Thompson was always aware of her own mathematical ability, but as a teen-ager in high school was allowed to opt out of taking math courses in favor of a program that let her alternate weeks in school with weeks working a job. When she arrived at college – also at York -- she tested into a calculus class, but having never learned pre-calculus topics, including trigonometry, ended up having to repeat it. A faculty member, Laurel Cooley, worked with her, and Thompson went on to major in math, tutor other students and, upon graduation, apply to TC.
For her TC dissertation, Thompson surveyed nearly 100 calculus and pre-calculus students and numerous faculty members at a local college on their experiences with computer algebra systems -- software that, like a very sophisticated calculator, can perform algebraic manipulations.
“It’s a tool that let students relax a little on the math itself, because the system is doing the math for you, and enables you to focus more or so on problem solving type questions,” she says. “At the same time, you can use it to practice math concepts you haven’t yet mastered.”
She found that while most of the students liked the tool, and were comfortable learning with technology, few used it in answering questions.  Thompson also discovered that no two professors teaching sections of the same course were in fact teaching the same content, nor did they have similar teaching styles. 
Perhaps as a result, only one student among all those Thompson surveyed was able to solve a group of standard pre-calculus  problems successfully. Her conclusion? The technology is good, but teachers must review seminal research literature, and work with educators who have walked the same path and are capable of guiding decision making and the appropriate use of technology in the classroom.
Thompson, credits her TC advisor, Erica Walker, and faculty members Bruce Vogeli and Henry Pollak, for guidance in her work and flexibility in helping her negotiate the many all-nighters required to write a dissertation while tending to three young children. Her love for math and experience at Teachers College, she says, “has inspired me to inspire others in and out of the classroom.”

Published Thursday, May. 20, 2010


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