Tablets for Math Education

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Watching instructors work mathematics based questions through animations in PowerPoints can be frustrating.  Not only does it not allow for the instructor to customize examples based on student questions, it helps teachers forget how it was to be a student: it takes us a while to write out all of the different math equations by hand.  This becomes a problem as students all around the room frantically try to scribble down numbers as they come flying in from all different parts of the projection screen.  Not only does this make it difficult to write fast enough, any sense of the actual order of the equations or how to properly write it out on a piece of paper for a test, quiz, or homework is effectively eliminated.  Teaching from a PowerPoint presentation also prevents interactions between instructors and students as the instructors are tethered to the front podium of the classroom to click between slides and are not actually able to demonstrate how to solve problems beyond their predesigned slides.

Fortunately for both students and instructors alike, a rapidly growing technology is ending the reign of animation-based PowerPoints in math education.  Tablet computers combine the best parts of PowerPoint (prepared in advance, reusable, easy to see from around the room) and teaching on a chalkboard (freedom to elaborate, work problems by hand, answer student questions).  They allow both the instructor and student to follow along as instructors can provide PDFs or other file formats for students to either annotate on paper or on a tablet of their own.  Tablet computers, when connected wirelessly (discussed below), allow instructors to move around the classroom with their presentation device to answer questions and work examples.

In terms of types of tablet computers, there are many available and the number continues to grow.  The different types of computers each come with their own software packages and specific connectivity options.  Below, we will look at various software and hardware options for teaching from an Apple iPad as it is one of the most well-known and respected tablets.  The below list is in no means comprehensive and experimentation is encouraged.

Software Suggested

Notability icon

Notability ($2.99, iTunes)- Notability is an app that allows for the annotation of files in a notebook style format that allows for the import of various file types and annotation styles

dropbox iconDropbox (Free)- A cloud storage option that allows users to access files uploaded from their home computers and other devices through their app on their tablet computer, eliminating the need to transport files back and forth

evernote iconEvernote (Free)- This app combines many of the options available from the above apps into one simple application.  It allows all notes to be synced across devices and accessible in a variety of settings.

Hardware Suggested

iPad (Pricing Varies)-  The most popular tablet computer on the market, it offers an extensive app store with many options for everything from notes, to games, to social media, to music.

Apple TV ($99)-  Apple’s device specially made to wirelessly pair Apple devices with displays, it allows instructors the opportunity to walk around the classroom with their iPad. **See AirServer below for an alternate option**

VGA Adapter (prices vary)-  If walking around the classroom is not a priority, a VGA adapter for the iPad allows the user the option of writing on their tablet but keeps the iPad tethered to the podium at the front of the room.

AirServer (pricing varies based on quantity)-  While not technically hardware, AirServer allows Apple devices to be mirrored to a Windows or Mac Computer.  This effectively eliminates the need for an Apple TV if used with a preexisting computer.  A much cheaper alternative but a less established support system.

With these innovations in software and hardware, math education just got smarter.


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