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Dynamic geometry software (DGS) has been around for decades; Geometer's Sketchpad (not the first, but probably the most well-known commercial product) has been around since 1986. Wikipedia lists more than thirty examples of the genre. I know that in the math ed literature there have been tons of studies (thirty years' worth, going back to the original research on the Geometric Supposer) on how DGS can be used (or misused) in teaching, on how students conceive of and interact with interactive diagrams, and on the factors (material and attitudinal) that constrain or enable teachers' adoption of this technology. But I have not found a straightforward answer to the following question: Just how many secondary geometry teachers actually use DGS, in some way, in their classrooms? Are we talking 20%? 50%? Less than 3%?

My own anecdotal experience seems to suggest that software of this type has only had limited penetration into the marketplace; that is to say, my impression is that most Geometry classes in most schools in the United States do not make any use of this software at all.

Of course "use DGS" can mean different things to different people. I imagine there are several different categories of DGS use:

  1. DGS software is not used at all
  2. DGS software is used occasionally, but only by the teacher, either for demonstration purposes or for creating static diagrams to include on printed documents like tests and worksheets
  3. DGS software is used occasionally by the whole class, but such use is limited to special projects or activities and not tightly-integrated into the rest of the curriculum
  4. DGS software is used consistently throughout the year and is tightly-integrated into the rest of the curriculum.

Ideally I'd like data that not only gives a single number for market penetration, but also gives some idea about how those adopters of the technology actually use it, either along the lines of the list above or using some other categorization. But frankly I'd settle for a simple number, even if it masks most of the important subtleties.

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  • $\begingroup$ Schools are typically resource-strapped, so it would be a wonder if they had the money for licenses, the computers, and (most importantly) the trained staff. I'd guess in the low 1% range. $\endgroup$ – vonbrand Apr 28 '14 at 15:55
  • $\begingroup$ GeoGebra (as well as a few similar things) are free (and have a lot of teaching material online), so license costs are not a big issue imho. The real question would be why would anyone want to pay for such software. $\endgroup$ – mbork Apr 28 '14 at 17:09
  • $\begingroup$ There are good reasons that differentiate Geometer's Sketchpad from GeoGebra. And reasons that differentiate GSP from Cabri (which is the DGS software most popular in Europe, if I understand correctly). Scott Steketee wrote a decent comparison of GSP and GeoGebra. Many reasons that advantage GSP over free alternatives relate to an understanding of how dynamic geometry can/should be used as a mathematical learning environment. $\endgroup$ – JPBurke Apr 28 '14 at 18:33
  • $\begingroup$ Disclosure: I consider the original creator of GSP a colleague, though he's no longer involved with the product. I've been involved with some dynamic geometry software research (on a project that also involved the creator of GSP, in another publication.) I believe the differences are significant, but details, beyond what I provided above, are beyond the scope of a comment. $\endgroup$ – JPBurke Apr 28 '14 at 18:39
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    $\begingroup$ Agree completely that provider-based data would be both hard to get and hard to interpret. I was hoping not for info on purchases and/or downloads, but rather for something like a nationwide survey of high school teachers that asks if and how they use DGS. Perhaps nothing like that exists, but it strikes me as something that the DGS community would want to know about. (And perhaps would be a good dissertation topic for a math ed grad student looking for a research question.) $\endgroup$ – mweiss Apr 29 '14 at 1:50
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I've found very little good information about how many classrooms use DGS, though Sketchpad does boast on its website: "Each new school year, tens of millions of students around the globe encounter mathematics through Sketchpad's Dynamic Geometry."

I can't seem to find a percent, so let me instead argue indirectly why I think the number of classrooms using DGS is lower than most people would expect. I'll begin my answer internationally, then discuss the U.S.

In many or most schools around the world, an important reason DGS is not adopted by schools is a lack of resources including but not limited to availability of computers and internet access.

Starting in South Africa (where I teach), there are serious problems with internet connectivity and student access to computers. Our school has a computer lab and (unreliable) internet access, but we have not adopted DGS despite the fact that we are spending far more on computers and internet than nearly other schools in South Africa could afford.

This data from 2005 indicates that only about 20% of South African government schools have "computers for teaching and learning." From there it's reasonable to infer that very few schools in South Africa (and the rest of Africa) could implement DGS level 3 or 4, even if the schools had reliable internet and administration.

Here is data from 2012 showing student-to-computer ratios for Asia. The accompanying report indicates that many countries (though India is a notable exception) have roughly enough computers dedicated to "pedagogical purposes" to make DGS feasible.

Similar reports from UNESCO are available for Latin America and the Caribbean and 5 Arab states.

In the U.S., census data indicate that private internet use is relatively high, though it is still somewhat surprising to note that over 30% of Americans in 2011 used little to no internet.

As far as U.S. schools are concerned, computer access shouldn't be too much of an issue, but there is some concern that internet access is limited for some schools.

However, full-scale DGS use requires HUGE amounts of resources compared to nearly all other computer and internet related activities, such that mere access to a computer and internet is not enough! For example, while online learning might initially seem more difficult than DGS, it is far more readily available nowadays to anyone with a computer and internet connection (e.g. Khan Academy, Coursera, etc.) than classroom DGS.

In contrast to online learning, here are the minimum resources a school needs in order to effectively reach DGS level 3 or 4:

1) School computers and internet connection. Note that this is the only thing I've discussed above, since international data on this topic is more readily available.

2) Supportive administration. A dedicated teacher might make one class reach DCG level 3 or 4, but without both administrative and technical support, this will have little effect on the whole school. Note that this entails an additional cost (especially in terms of time and management) on top of #1.

3) Teachers. Teachers must understand and teach using DCG, then have patience to deal with students and ensure that they use DGS in a meaningful way. For most schools, DCG would require additional teacher training, entailing yet more costs.

In summary, I would argue that while DGS adoption will almost certainly increase with time, there are presently too many costs and hassles - even for affluent schools - and not enough incentives for schools to implement DGS above level 2.

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  • $\begingroup$ I appreciate the effort that went into this response, but I don't consider it an answer to the question. In the OP I said that "my impression is that most Geometry classes in most schools in the United States do not make any use of this software at all", and it seems that most people concur with me, and I appreciate your elaboration of the reasons. But what I want is an estimate of how many do use it. $\endgroup$ – mweiss May 2 '14 at 16:20
  • $\begingroup$ @mweiss I agree with you. I don't have the answer. I apologize. However, I hope this answer goes at least part of the way to explaining the general consensus. $\endgroup$ – David Ebert May 2 '14 at 16:22
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I'm in a project with 27 different schools from around New York city, all of which have geometry classes, and as far as I can tell, the only use of DGS I have seen is teacher use for demonstration purposes. There are teachers who would use it with students, but the process of getting students able to access it is too excessive with their current technology structures (either a computer lab, or a mobile laptop cart).

However, in every private school I worked in, we not only had access to DGS, we used it, probably every teacher in the department at some point. In two of these schools students had their own laptops, and in the 3rd school, my class was small enough that using 12 computers in the computer lab was not that big a deal, and so we just went when we needed the software.

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I do not believe a study has been done to determine the percentage of secondary teachers actually using DGS in their classrooms, with levels that indicate how the software is actually used. I did some poking around and the result is that I believe there is market data that does not answer your question.

I found this publication which surveys DGS use in other countries. Not very detailed, but I thought I would share it with you.

For what it's worth. I asked people who had been involved with research in DGS, and nobody I asked indicated they were aware of such a study being done. Good luck.

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  • $\begingroup$ The international study is really interesting and I appreciate you digging it up. I guess the information I want really doesn't exist. Surprising, as I would think it would be a fairly easy study to conduct. $\endgroup$ – mweiss May 7 '14 at 14:15
  • $\begingroup$ You might think someone would have at least done a survey within a state. I believe there is a need for more information on technology use, but also a need for greater depth in the study and use of technology for math education. $\endgroup$ – JPBurke May 7 '14 at 14:29

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