One paragraph at the end of the Times piece on 1-to-1 laptop initiatives seems to sum up the situation pretty well:
Alice McCormick, who heads the math department, said most math teachers preferred graphing calculators, which students can use on the Regents exams, to laptops, which often do not have mathematical symbols or allow students to show their work for credit. “Let’s face it, math is for the most part still a paper-and-pencil activity when you’re learning it,” she said.
Not to jump down Ms. McCormick's neck -- I'm sure those quotes are pulled out of a long conversation and made more sense in context, but let's run down the observations packed in here:
- Most math teachers prefer a $100(-ish) graphing calculator to a $1000 computer.
- There is a strong disincentive to using laptops in math class because they aren't allowed on the Regents exams.
- Their computers aren't set up in either hardware (keyboard) or software to do very basic things their students need to do in this core subject.
- Contrary to point 1, math is not even about using graphing calculators, it is about paper and pencils.
On one hand, this passage illustrates how comprehensively FUBAR ed-tech often is in 2007. Still, it gives me some hope. We don't have to start by changing point 4, that is, fundamentally reconfiguring the math teacher's conception of mathematics. There is lower-hanging fruit here. If we can give students a laptop that feels as simple and reliable as a graphing calculator, which replaces a graphing calculator and has uses in every subject at, say, four times the cost of a graphing calculator, that's a device that might get some traction, particularly if problem 2 is solved with a few pen strokes by the right state administrators.