“I know how that works…..oh, computer says NO!!”

Posted by Phil on May 5, 2016

It was only this week whilst at Hastings Academy, I was helping year 11 students with their preparation for their Maths GCSE and one boy, who quite frankly made somewhat silly mistakes not giving the exercise due care and attention, and after a period of frustration said to the teacher, “Why don’t we just get a computer to do all of this, I am sure they can!!”. He was indeed right, the computer can perform the vast majority of Mathematical problems, but the teacher quite correctly replied, “You need to learn the understanding.”


I think pupils today almost have an element of complacency, if they have the tools to do something quicker they will do just that, but at the obvious expense of understanding. However, the argument for the use of computers is equally compelling and if used at the right time in the right context can be a valuable tool. Also this week, whilst assessing the impact of transformations I had intuitively answered a problem (albeit not entirely correct), only to discover the real solution when using Desmos, at that moment it fascinated me and showed me how technology can be used at the right time to engage.


In the last 50 years we have seen , arguably, the greatest pace of technological advances ever. Technology is now incorporated into almost every aspect of our lives and even more so for the younger generations, but with that in mind I think that even now the standard Maths lesson has a relatively small proportion of time dedicated to using computers for the application of Maths. I think current teaching methods are somewhat outdated, and more ICT should be made part of the learning, but at the same time understanding remains key. I think teachers as a whole are if anything limited in their own ability to teach ICT and Maths in tandem. Wolfram suggests that programming is a good way to promote understanding, I have a big issue with that – I love Maths but shudder at the thought of programming. The question is, if changes to the system are made, when does Maths become ICT??


I think Willingham puts forward some great points, technology is a fantastic tool but needs to be used again at the right time. In the past few months, as well as Desmos, I have seen the benefit of some fantastic applications and online resources, which provide students an excellent resource to extend their learning and understanding. I also found Willingham’s comments regarding multitasking insightful, although possibly not too surprising. I think younger generations have the exposure to their own ideas of “multitasking”, but I couldn’t agree more that there is a detrimental impact on the quality of work. I have often found myself working on something within a certain project and then include content from another focal point as I have become distracted.


I personally feel Maths should be kept in its own pure form as much as it can, if anything with a greater emphasis on understanding and I think the focus of applying Maths using technology should be an area given more attention too by ICT lessons, I am sure ICT teachers would disagree…Computer says No!!


  1. Martha
    6 May 2016

    Another great title Philll! I completely agree with you as well – I’ve had the ‘oh yeah that’s what it looks like!’ moments using desmos and geogebra. But I’ve also had those eureka moments using pen and paper in Nicolas geometry classes – and I think you have too! So yes, technology is great when it’s used properly but I don’t think it’s the bee all and end all.

  2. Fintan Donnellan
    10 May 2016

    Is programming a skill that we as prospective math teachers need to have? It’s still pretty much an unknown area for a lot of us, but has become so intertwined with the subject of math and its applications that maybe we should have some rudimentary programming skills. We’ve only touched on it with Richard Goodman, but maybe it’s something we should be trained up on while working as teachers.

  3. jat32
    10 May 2016

    Phil, I found this an interesting analysis. I think that you and I have looked at this week’s pieces in very different ways but (after reading your comment on my post) reach similar conclusions i.e. a hope that repetition will engender learning is misplaced. Will be interesting to see how the class discussion goes to see if we are really agreeing…..or not.

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