What is the secret ingredient in teaching mathematics?

Posted by France on May 5, 2016

One thing seems to be recurring throughout history is that in times of crisis, there are so many voices or prepositions which proclaim to have the solution for the situations at hand. But among all these solutions there must be at least one which is viable. Conrad Wolfram believes that the correct use of computers is the silver bullet for making maths education work. The evidence of the correct use of computers can be found in places such as the South of Delhi and some of India’s poorest areas when Professor Sugata Mithra had the ingenious idea to place computers in walls to allow those children to learn independently. Though, I get the point that this generation is trying to move away from the traditional way of learning mathematics, i.e. paper and pencils, which is great, but are computers the only “correct” method to teaching mathematics?
Willingham warns us that new technologies may be effective or not depending on the material and on characteristics of the student. The good thing about the traditional teaching is that, the teacher can rely on his or her gut feeling about students learning progress which the new proposed method would deprive them of. But when new technologies are introduced, the teacher has the responsibility to gauge whether the new technology is enhancing comprehension or becoming overwhelming. Besides, the existing research does tell us something rather obvious: new technologies do not represent a silver bullet, though it seems like students today have a love affair with technology (Willingham, 2010).

Certainly, the maths taught at school may sometimes not reflect real life problems, but do they have to? If we have to move away from the traditional methods so that the students are exposed to real life maths problems; is it not too soon? The privilege of living in countries where education is compulsory isn’t given to all. In some countries adolescents are the bread winner in their families and having computers stuck in street walls are the only facility available for learning. However, computers aren’t able to make students “feel mathematics” by themselves or learning how to factorise x²-16, but exploring all maths related problems on a consistent basis and compiling all available maths resources would eventually help students and aspiring teachers to have the “mathematical awareness” as suggested by Wolfram.
I could say that I was a technophobe, I’ve always found new technologies challenging and the articles have reaffirmed their valuable importance, particularly in teaching mathematics.

I like both the video and Willingham article; while Wolfram was passionate about making computers the epicentre in modern day teaching of mathematics, Willingham on the other hand, proved his arguments by incorporating evidence from different studies. Since the beginning of this course, I have watched different styles of teaching both via computers and from class observations. Making computers the main vessel is not the right solution, but using computers as a complementary tool is perhaps the right or correct way forward and I would certainly embrace such style

1 Comment

  1. jat32
    10 May 2016

    As you will see from my post I do think that computers have a part to play in both taking away some of the drudgery of maths and, if used correctly (i.e. with the learner controlling the computers in a mini-programming way) as a way of making sense of maths. I have found both Excel, Desmos and Geogebra really useful at letting me build and explore problems and while a bit of Luddite when I joined this course I can really see the benefit of these packages.

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