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Posted by Mathagogy, SIMON on Feb 2, 2015




I studied computational engineering at University two years ago and found it incredibly useful, it enabled me to calculate some pretty crazy stuff such as combustion models for rocket engines, it made my maths come to life and had obvious real life applications that I would be using now had I chosen a different career path. But it was hard…..like really really hard and I would never have been able to get that far without first knowing how to compute at least the basic equations by hand and understanding what I was typing into the programming program I was using. I somewhat feel like I missed the point of his video, Conrad answered my main concern (Is knowing how to calculate something part of the understanding of it?) with “programming” and he suggests that if you really want to check you understand something then write a program of how to do it, but this seems like a contradiction to me, how can you possibly write a maths program without knowing how to do the maths in the first place?

I do however agree that computational mathematics (or programming) should be taught in schools as I know how useful it can be and the real life applications are becoming more and more prominent, but it should be a compliment to mathematics, not a replacement.


I also think that technology should be used more in classrooms and if that means using computational programming elements to improve and expand the quality of teaching then it should definitely be used. Daniel Willingham warns that using technology wrong can actually hinder the learning of some students and suggests that teachers think “I want to teach ‘x’ is there a tool that can help me do that?” rather than “How can I use this tool to teach ‘x’”. Just because some modern technology is available doesn’t mean a teacher should shoehorn that technology into their lessons, careful planning and thought about whether or not the technology actually enhances the lesson is a must. A very good example of this comes up in the book The Teaching Gap which describes a lesson in which the teacher was recommended to use calculators in lessons:

The class needed the answer to the problem 1-4. “Take out your calculators,” the teacher said. “Now follow along with me. Push the one. Push the minus sign. Push the four. Now push the equals sign. What do you get?” The calculator, in this case, was a diversion, and accomplished little on behalf of students’ mathematical understanding.

This is a perfect example of trying to force modern technologies (the TIMMS study which The Teaching Gap describes was conducted in 1999) unnecessarily into a class and, in my opinion, would actually be a detriment to the students learning. I feel that the key to using technology to enhance lessons is to understand why we are using them, at the moment the use of interactive whiteboards and other technologies (some schools give students IPads, laptops etc.) feels like it is almost trying to deceive students and distract them from the fact that they are learning maths when we should be using technologies to creatively teach maths so students take more of an interest in the subject, it is a fine line but a crucial one that can help us understand the situations when technologies should be used.

Technology in the classroom is now a certainty and it can be a brilliant thing, my last two think pieces mentioned technology and how I would love to see an inquiry based Khan Academy, but we must think about why we are using them, so what would you take into consideration when selecting technologies to aid your teaching? And at what point does technology actually distract students from learning? Do you think students should be able to listen to music while working alone?

1 Comment

  1. Peps Mccrea
    10 February 2015

    Some intelligent analysis here. Great question about the Chicken/Egg nature of programming. Would like to see you dig into this a bit more rather than just leave it hanging as a question. Great to see you making connections with evidence from TIMMS. Your conclusions regarding the place of technology are developing well. Looking forward to where this takes you next.

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