The Tyranny of Technology

Originally posted August 30th, 2010 when I was working with another Cooperating Teacher (CT) at another high school in another district.

Having spent over 25 years in high-tech, I am definitely an advocate for technology, as long as it provides some advantage, efficiency, or other benefit.  My experience with it this past Sunday while creating a lesson for my Math Analysis (Trigonometry and aspects of Pre-calculus) classes was anything but positive.  It was encumbering, painful (literally, more on that someday), and exasperating.  My wish to project math coolness in .pptx format was more a Faustian bargain with my ego than anything.  After over four hours, yes, you read that right, four hours, making slides in Gatesware, I found myself wondering why I even started in the first place!   The following four were the most complex graphically of the entire set.

While I had a few decent slides to show my students, the depth of my labor would neither be known nor cared for, and the “bang for the buck” factor was less than 1.0 so it was grossly inefficient.  I could have accomplished the same lesson plan using transparencies in one hour, maybe two with start-up inefficiencies, but nowhere near the laborious labyrinth I found myself trapped within all day Sunday.  “Never again!” friends and countrymen will I struggle under the yoke of Billware, or Steveware for that matter, trying to make the simple easy to understand and instead the simple becomes complex not only in form but in result…ugh!

So, it might be a few days before I put a slide together on my computer…and I’ve broken out my transparency pens for good measure.  If I only would have heeded my inner adult and not the sirens’ song of my “I can do that!” ego.  Who said you get wiser as you get older??

So while I sit here, tarnished and a bit shaken, my students learned (or more precisely were shown) what they needed to know, mostly, about angles in “Standard Position” and about “Coterminal Angles.”  My CT felt my slides might have confused a few students which I accept as a possible outcome, even though I did strive to make it as understandable as possible.

Worse yet, my “Group Activity” problem (see below) bombed with my CT.  She felt it was way too challenging for her students since it required them to think about the problem in ways they were not taught before.  While I agree it forced them to use their thinking cap, and put their heads together stretching their minds a bit, I felt it was a doable problem and an interesting one at that, from my “neophyte teacher” perspective that is.

I am very open to my CT’s concern that the difficulty of the problem could freak the students out since it required them to think and collaborate about a topic with which they were unfamiliar, or uncomfortable with.  At the same time, I was stunned when my CT said that the students likely did not learn that the measure of a central angle formed by two radii that intercept an arc on a circle, or sphere, is equal to the arc length, whether defined in degree or radian measure.

The school is pretty high-powered, API score-wise so I thought this topic surely was covered; it was included in the charter HS for disadvantaged youth at which I volunteered last year.  My CT also said she was not sure if it was in the CA math standards for geometry so that might be the reason it was not covered.  My quick check of the Geometry standards shows the following standards, where one could argue this concept should be covered, but I am nowhere near as familiar with the standards as my CT.

8.0 Students know, derive, and solve problems involving the perimeter, circumference, area, volume, lateral area, and surface area of common geometric figures.

9.0 Students compute the volumes and surface areas of prisms, pyramids, cylinders, cones, and spheres; and students commit to memory the formulas for prisms, pyramids, and cylinders.

11.0 Students determine how changes in dimensions affect the perimeter, area, and volume of common geometric figures and solids.

I’ve included my problem below for posterity sake (or until I drop it from this post.)  I have not figured out how to format in this editor so it might not look that great.

Assume the Earth is a sphere with a radius of 6374 km:

a)  What is the length, in km, of a 1° arc formed by the Earth’s radius along the surface of the Earth?  [Hint: C = 2πr]
b)  If the distance between SFO and Washington Dulles Airport (IAD) along a “great circle” arc on the Earth is 2426 miles, find the distance in degrees. [A great circle is any circle on the sphere formed by the radius of the sphere.]
•  Assume 0.62 mi = 1 km and π=3.14.
•  Express your answer in both decimal degrees and D°-M’-S”
c)  Compute the angle measure (decimal degrees @ 3 significant figures) for the following and specify the quadrant if the arc distance between:
1) SFO and IAD (Wash, DC) is 2426 miles
2) SFO and BOM (Mumbai) is 8439 miles
3) IAD and CPT (Cape Town, South Africa) is 10,304 miles
4) SFO to CPT via IAD (add together for “total arc distance”)

About Dave aka Mr. Math Teacher

Secondary math teacher teaching math intervention, algebra 1, honors precalculus, and AP Calculus AB. I spent 25 years in high tech in engineering, marketing, sales and business development roles in the satellite communications, GPS, semiconductor, and wireless industries. I am awed by the potential in our nation's youth and I hope to instill in them the passion to improve our world at local, state, national, and global levels.
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4 Responses to The Tyranny of Technology

  1. zshiner says:

    As we attempt to further simplify our lives, the simplification process becomes exceedingly complicated…

    It sounds like you’re really diving in. Sorry to hear your lesson wasn’t such a hit.


  2. Ms. Rachelle says:

    I think that it’s admirable that you took a risk to put an authentically challenging question out there for students, as modeled in our C&I classes. However, just remember for your next placement and for your own classroom that it takes a long time to build the trust and confidence of students (as well as skill, in many cases) in your class. Just because this didn’t work at this point in time, doesn’t mean that you can’t bring it back later.


  3. eo says:

    Sounds like a good thing that the TC changed CT.

    Can you use the W/U to make sure they know the prerequisites for the days teaching? The challenge of teaching on a clock seems tough.

    The whole thing sounds challenging.


    • Dave says:

      Yes, I believe the W/U is primarily used for just that reason. And its almost humorous being on the other side of the fence in the classroom: a 50-60 minute period is sooo short when you need to: 1) take role, 2) check h/w for basic understanding (a “formative assessment”), 3) review select h/w problems, 4) introduce a new concept or build upon or reinforce a prior day’s concept, 5) offer an in class activity (to establish some familiarity with the concept) and circle the classroom checking for understanding (for another formative assessment), providing help, or answering questions, and 6) remind students of h/w assignment or other items. For teachers, this cycle repeats itself 5-7 times a day depending upon class load. Whew! Luckily for me, I’m just a student teacher…


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