What if the internet is down?

Posted by Sergio on Jan 10, 2016

Wolfram believes that computers are the silver bullet to the growing dissatisfaction in mathematics education, while Willingham believes that the problem is more to do with a mental work space and about how you utilize computers and that they are definitely not a silver bullet in this sense.
Willingham begins by talking about a study regarding interactive white boards. Half of the students were asked whether or not they liked the white boards – Which received an overwhelmingly positive result – and the other half were asked how they felt about their maths lesson – Which was more divided. This suggested that the mere presence of technology didn’t actually make them more likely to enjoy a class. Wolfram seems to suggest that the dissatisfaction in classrooms arises because so much of it is centred on calculations which aren’t as interesting or relevant in today’s world and proposes that computers should be used to remove the emphasis on calculation. This view is in line with the one proposed by Ken Robinson who believes that education is outdated and needs to be re-evaluated to fit the modern world. However I believe computers are a tool and we need to understand what we want to achieve by using them. We need to understand the limitations of the current methods of teaching and see where technology could improve them. Ultimately, we need to understand the type of lessons and questions that will engage students and make them want to learn mathematics, which as Willingham says, will only come with trial and error.

Wolfram talks about what the steps of a mathematical problem should be. He suggests we should be using more real world and practical problems, turning them into maths, calculating them and then bringing them back to reality to verify the answer. This is something Dan Mayer stresses in his video and urges teachers to use technology to embed real life into the maths problems. Willingham offers a slightly different perspective and suggests that a problem needs to be both challenging but solvable. All three agree that the types of questions we ask are important, however Willingham doesn’t believe that real life problems are the only engaging or valuable ones. Indeed sites like Khan Academy don’t offer an array of real life questions and still have a degree of success, of which I am a part of.
Willingham goes back to talking about the ‘mental workspace’ much like in his article on mathematical ability. He still believes that the biggest factor stopping people learning maths is the ability to juggle ideas in your short term memory. He goes on to suggest that technology can become a distraction, and that this makes it harder to focus on your work and to learn. In my own experience as a student educated in the 21st century distractions exist at the click of a button and make it difficult to focus on difficult tasks that require several steps and long-term thought. If we are in a classroom and are making use of computers we need to be careful to plan lessons and manage time so that students don’t end up going on Facebook or YouTube, so they can actually consolidate what they’ve learnt and transition it into their long term memory.


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