Watanabe, T. (2002). A Mathematics Teacher Educator Responds to “Grand Challenges” Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education [Online serial], 2(1). https://citejournal.org/volume-2/issue-1-02/general/a-mathematics-teacher-educator-responds-to-grand-challenges

A Mathematics Teacher Educator Responds to “Grand Challenges”

by TAD WATANABE, Towson University


I really enjoyed this article. I believe you have made a very good case that putting personal portable wireless computer into every student’s hand is financially possible, or even probable. I also agree that “development of technologically competent students may be one of the most important investments that we can make in schools.”

“Planning now for best use of ubiquitous computing” is a grand challenge. Your discussion on how the “first use of an emerging technology tends to become entrenched” was very convincing. We (the education community) should not be standing still. The argument about the coming didactic digital divide was also very enlightening to me. I have a very difficult time imagining how the Internet can enhance students’ mathematical learning – I am very much convinced that graphing calculators and computer software such as Geometer’s Sketchpad and Logo used appropriately can facilitate students’ learning of mathematics, including mathematics that may not have been accessible without them. However, I suppose schooling is not just about learning mathematics.

I agree that a national dialog on this subject is important. A leadership conference would be a good first step. I cannot disagree with the importance of the three objectives listed for such a conference, either. I like the fact that you included K-12 teachers who are already using handheld computers in such a conference. I would also recommend that K-12 teachers be actively involved in research as a research agenda is formulated. I would also like to see “research” in this context go much beyond the traditional research carried out by higher educational faculty, but also classroom-based “research” in the sense of Japanese research lessons (Lewis, 2000). I think, in the final analysis, the way K-12 classroom teachers adopt and utilize handheld computers is what matters.

What concerns me a little bit is the timeline. I believe a national conference to develop a white paper and a research agenda is useful and important, but I wonder if the pace is a bit too slow to meet the challenges by the end of this decade. Another important component of a grand challenge seems to be the development of information resources. I suppose this follows from research, but can we afford to wait that long? The cyberspace is full of unreliable information.

I completely agree with the importance of educating teacher educators (and other educational leaders). This might be the biggest challenge of all, especially mathematicians and scientists. I probably have a stereotype of thinking that a “liberal arts” professor would be much more willing to go along with the access to some information via handheld technology than would scientists and mathematicians who are willing to consider the use of handheld computers in Calculus I or Biology 101. Perhaps I am wrong, but looking at many of my colleagues (and I cannot necessarily exclude myself), we are not at the cutting edge in utilizing handheld computers in our own classrooms. We need to be convinced how these devices can really enhance students’ (future teachers’) learning of subject matters.

The article did not address the various issues related to assessment.  I think one reason graphing calculators became so widely used is because some of the high stakes tests allowed/required the use of graphing calculators.  Even with graphing calculators (programmable ones), there were concerns about students storing inappropriate information.  With handhelds, this will definitely become more of a concern.  The NCTM Standards statement about technology influencing not only how we teach but what we teach becomes extremely important to educators, but it does not necessarily say anything about how we assess.  I think technology will force us to change how we assess students, too.

I think your final paragraph is a very powerful call for educators at all levels. In a way, I cannot wait to be convinced but rather should start taking actions anyway. Perhaps that may be a bit dangerous, but the time to stand still and wait for someone to convince me that status quo is not good enough is over. This article has most definitely challenged my own thinking on technology in schools, and I thank you for giving me this opportunity to provide you my comments.


Lewis, C. (2000, April). Lesson study: The core of Japanese professional development. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans, LA.

Contact Information:

Tad Watanabe
Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators
Representative to the National Technology Leadership Initiative

Towson University
Towson, Maryland


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