24 Learning: Thinking Mathematically

24 Learning

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Thinking Mathematically

I was prompted by a posting on David Warlick's blog to comment about teaching mathmatics. I'll post the gist of it here.

I agree with you David that the computer has changed significantly from a ‘computing’ machine to a communication machine. Although I do think this change, for most of us, was quite a long time ago. I’m not a specialist mathematics teacher but it seems to me that what is missing in maths classes often is relevancy. The pupils need to understand why a mathematical concept is useful to them in everyday life. Just because it is going to be on the test is not a good enough answer anymore.

We have been playing with a couple of things in my maths lessons that I think are both fun and relevant. http://www.electrocity.co.nz/ is a game where the students have to build a city (a much simpler online version of sim city). Every decision they make in the game has an impact on population, environment, electricity supply, happiness and bank balance. My class have been playing the game for a couple of weeks now but I have just added the task of creating a spreadsheet to track the impact each decision has on the total score.

Another group have been using google sketchup to create 3D models of the school buildings which we will post up to google earth when finished. Lots of mathematical discussion about how to create a scale model and how to measure the height of the hall without climbing on a ladder.

I know many more teachers could add their ideas here about how they are using technology effectively in teaching mathematics.

In New Zealand we have embarked on a numeracy development project across the whole country. See http://www.nzmaths.co.nz/numeracy/Intro.aspx for an introduction. As part of this project digital learning objects http://www.nzmaths.co.nz/LearningObjects/ have been created to illustrate mathematical concepts in an interesting way.

The key thought I had in my head when I wrote my first attempt at this comment was that we need to be making maths relevant. If the children cannot grasp the purpose of learning a particular concept then we need to find other ways of presenting it until we do make it not only understandable but relevant. If I can’t answer the question “Why do I need to know this?” then I need to rethink my lesson.

Maybe we need a movie/slideshow/website/whatever competition along the lines of… “You need to know this mathematical concept because…”

That is my 10 cents worth anyway (inflation adjusted and taking into account the exchange rate and the fact that we no longer have 1, 2 or 5 cent coins in our currency I felt I couldn’t add 2cents to the debate)

In browsing the comments on Davids blog I came across this great looking site. It looks a bit like the digital learning objects at the nzmaths website.


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