Technology In The Classroom

By Lauren Jefferson | May 24th, 2016


Donna Frey ’87 Bowen checks homework the old-fashioned way in her geometry class at Bullock Creek High School in Midland, Michigan. (Photo by Jon Styer)

Donna Frey ’87 Bowen was one of the first math teachers in the country to use graphing calculators – and you’d think this was a pretty neat claim to modest fame – but when a Crossroads writer begins to pepper this 25-year teaching veteran with questions about which brand, Casio or Texas Instruments, came first, et cetera, et cetera, she gently but firmly provides guidance.

“Now I know that’s really interesting,” she says patiently, but with quiet insistence, “but the real story is what technology allows me to do now. I can do so much more in terms of engaging students. Even my classroom management has changed because of technology.”

Her interlocutor, who is hundreds of miles away, immediately senses, even over the phone, what it must be like as a student in Mrs. Bowen’s geometry class at Bullock Creek High School in Midland, Michigan. Even a not-so-good student might gain confidence from that firm realignment towards a different horizon.

You’re on the right track is the affirming message. Just go this direction with your brain instead.

Bowen, however, has to be convinced that her teaching trajectory is worth sharing: “There are many other teachers that do amazing things out there. I’m really not doing anything extraordinary.”

Consider this article, then, a snapshot of a teacher who does what every teacher should in the course of his or her professional career: be both a steadfast practitioner of tried-and-true methodologies and a savvy integrator of new technologies.

That iconic pedagogical tool, The Chalkboard, has gone the way of the ditto machine and the overhead projector (whether you were taught with or taught yourself with those tools has become a generation-definer). In her classes, Bowen uses a computer whiteboard and several instructional software programs: eInstruction Workspace, the freeware app Geogebra, and TI SmartView, which projects a representation of a graphing calculator for classroom viewing.

Not only does she have more options when presenting complex concepts, but using a small tablet called a Mobi Learner, Bowen can teach her lesson from any location in the classroom.


Using a Mobi Learner, Frey works with students on a series of homework problems and introduces new concepts, keeping students engaged with constant interaction, both digital and human. (Photo by Jon Styer)

This means the class cut-up Johnny, who used to wait until Mrs. Bowen’s back was turned to the whiteboard to make a face or otherwise disrupt the class, no longer has the opportunity. He’s probably more engaged with what’s going on, and also keeping an eye on the alarmingly peripatetic Mrs. Bowen.

“My classroom management has completely changed,” Bowen says. “I am never at the front of the classroom. I can even hand the Mobi to a student to draw on or manipulate a model while everyone is watching. I can say, ‘Show me,’ and they can. The dynamics have changed.”

While Bowen is a fan of technology, she says, it “does not fundamentally change the methods I use for getting concepts across. I ask good leading questions. I listen to them. Good teaching starts with good questioning. In fact, the more I teach, the less I say.”

Another change, Bowen notes, is that she no longer has to convince her students – and that’s just about every student in the Bullock Creek school district, because Bowen has been, for most semesters, the only geometry teacher – that math skills are necessary to a successful post-high-school career. “A high school diploma is critical, and most kids these days get that. They’re not quite so hard to convince that this is a skill they need to learn for their own benefit.”

A couple of kids she didn’t need to convince of that were her own: Mattie, a senior at Bullock Creek, and Corey, who graduated from Case Western Reserve University in 2013 and is now a doctoral candidate in aerospace engineering at University of Michigan.

Before moving to Michigan in 1995 with her husband Frank, Bowen also taught in Northern Virginia and in the Shenandoah Valley.