Blog Post 9: Distributed Cognition

Applying technology to a classroom consists of understanding your students as a teacher and understanding what topics need to be enhanced through the technology you are using. Distributed cognition is also shown throughout any lesson, especially those listed on our class’s website. Morgan explains that, “distributed cognition is a way to understand how people interact with their environment and how they can be enabled by the environment to undertake highly complex tasks that would usually be beyond the abilities of the unassisted individual” (Morgan 127).Distributed cognition should be applied to each classroom as the teacher uses the external resources available in the environment to better each student’s learning of the curriculum. To me, distributed cognition means the application of students interacting with the resources given to me and being able to discuss those with one another to better their overall knowledge.

Based on my interest in math and my career study being within the Early Childhood Education frame, I chose to watch Mr. Pronovost in a second-grade classroom at Belle Haven Community School where he gave a lesson regarding addition and subtraction facts. Throughout his lesson, technology was used amongst the students independently, in small groups and even in whole group instruction.

These technology tools that he integrated into his lesson consisted of individual white boards for each student, markers to go with those whiteboards, iPad for himself as the teacher, MacBook/laptop for each student, iPods and a projector for Mr. Pronovost to display his instruction and practice. Starting with the whiteboards, students have individual white boards at their desks where they used these to write out their addition and subtraction problems they were working on. The addition and subtraction problems came from problems they were solving in the games on the site called Planet Turtle. On Planet Turtle, students are given basic facts. This allows them to have individual practice. Mr. Pronovost told the students that they must practice at least three games and get at least an 80% to move to DreamBox (which is another website/application) or to their iPods. These games on Planet Turtle provide the students with immediate feedback. This aspect is emphasized heavily throughout Martin’s piece of writing. He stated that, “Monitoring refers to the function of assessing the quality of the coordination between systems and providing this information as feedback” (Martin 94). These students are shown four choices to choose. Then as soon as they click an answer, they receive that immediate feedback. Mr. Pronovost can monitor the progress these students are making on this type of formative assessment called, Planet Turtle. During the time of students working on Planet Turtle he can gather the students who need extra help, while the other students are receiving immediate feedback from the game instead of him having to do that.

As the students are solving math problems on Planet Turtle, they are using headphones to listen to their game. One student told us that as you get a correct answer, you receive a point. Planet Turtle is specifically used to reinforce the addition and subtraction that they practice as a class. Once they show mastery in Planet Turtle, they can move onto DreamBox. Planet Turtle also emphasizes the action of off-loading that we talked about in class. Martin stated that, “canonical examples of off-loading include the use of a written list to aid in remembering a series of items, the use of calculators to do arithmetic during mathematical problem solving, or the use of an autocorrect function in a word processor while composing text” (Martin 94). The students used their hands to help solve math facts and they were even using the white board as a resource for them to focus on the Planet Turtle problems in the application. Off-loading allows you to use other resources to aid in solving your main goal, addition and subtraction facts in this case.

DreamBox is another application they use to practice their addition and subtraction facts and shows distributed cognition. This is more individualized instruction because this game gives them problems at their own levels, rather than providing basic facts for the entire class at the same level as Planet Turtle does. This is when the effects of and through technology term comes into play from the Salomon and Perkins piece. Scaffolding is used throughout the students’ learning in DreamBox because that application is specific to each student’s level in math. Effects of technology implies that the effects, positive or negative, that persist without the technology after a period of using it. Effects of technology help to develop cognitive ability, knowledge, and a deeper conceptual understanding while effects through technology sometimes do not just enhance cognition, like it is in DreamBox but it fundamentally reorganizes it. This is shown in DreamBox because this application is appropriate for each student, while the teacher can walk around and help those students who need the most help. This game is differentiated for each student. Another example of scaffolding/effects of technology was when Mr. Pronovost would call students over to his teacher table who needed more assistance as others are working on Planet Turtle or DreamBox.

The students are using various strategies as they show progress through these games/applications on their computers. Students could be using their hands as a helpful way to solve problems, or they could use their whiteboards to write out the addition/subtraction facts. As I watch these students solving facts on their computers, I realize that sometimes computers are not always the best tool, Mr. Pronovost even stated that himself. Therefore, they must decide what strategy is best for them as an individual.

Throughout whole group instruction, he uses the iPad as a guiding technology to then project what he is writing on that to the class as they sit on the center carpet. Once it was time for the iPods, or when students were able to move onto the iPods after completing previous work, they can play interactive games with their headphones in. Throughout these applications on the iPods and laptops the games are being constantly assessed. Each student must pass one level in order to move onto the next level. “If they passed a level,” stated Mr. Pronovost, “they have mastered a concept” which I thought was a brilliant way of phrasing it. The students also are talking to one another at the teacher table when they are solving the same math facts. All this practice and this lesson completely could be done through worksheets and lectures, but he said that would make his students heavily bored and I agree. If they are completing a worksheet, they will want to know what to do when they are done, rather than compared to a game they are constantly moving onto the next level and practicing/mastering their skills in this lesson.

Altogether, technology itself is a translation and it helps to represent ideas that Mr. Pronovost wanted to portray in his lesson of addition and subtraction facts. He can translate his ideas of solving math facts into games and interactive activities that allows them to apply their knowledge. I believe that this lesson and how the technology was integrated made the students overall “smarter.” The students were able to practice their skills according to the level they are at, and they can develop their understanding of math facts with technology. Technologies, including those involved in this specific lesson in Mr. Pronovost’s classroom, expands each student’s cognitive capabilities in any fundamental sense. With that in mind effects of and effects through technology are present in this lesson. Therefore, as Salomon states, “yes, working with certain technologies makes us smarter, at least in the sense that it leads to smarter performance” (Salomon 75). Once you begin to analyze and interpret all of the affordances of the technologies in use in a lesson, you can understand how technology can make one smarter based on the person who is using them and how they are using it to enhance their knowledge. 

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