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Using ICT to support the learning of Mathematics: 10 practical ideas

Author: Richard Smith, Igloo in Education
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ICT has a key role to play in mathematical education in 2013. The nature of ICT means that students can explore, play, compete and collaborate so that they develop the confidence required to be a good mathematician. Richard shares a range of ideas that can extend and enhance learning.
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1: Playful Exploration

Sometimes as students get older maths can get incredibly serious. I have found that students of any age like to explore mathematical concepts and to have fun. This could be linked to shapes, numbers, patterns or sequences. For exploration of number I have found the app. MyScript Calculator invaluable (Android or iOS). It recognises a wide range of mathematical symbols and allows students to set each other calculations to solve. It is only when the user lifts their hand from the screen that the answer is revealed. My favourite activity is to set a challenge such as ‘how many ways can you find of getting the answer 10?’There are of course an infinite number of solutions, but we don’t have time to get them all! The interface is very clean and easy to use which makes the fact that it can cope with symbols such as Pi more extraordinary for the user. Other tools that support mathematical exploration include Geogrebra (Win, Mac or Linux), Geometry Pad(Android and iOS)and Poly (PC or Mac Download).

2: Screencasting

Instead of writing on paper students can explain things by creating text and diagrams on a tablet computer.  As they create a digital image with their finger on the screen, software records their accompanying oral explanations. Background music can be added to make the creation more engaging and professional. The presentation can then either be saved locally or shared with the world via social media. I have worked with hundreds of students and teachers using this technique over the last 12 months and have observed the development of both mathematical understanding and key vocabulary.  On one occasion a Year 4 student created a screencast linked to methods of multiplication, it was shared publicly on twitter and within 10 minutes the father of the student ‘tweeted’ that he was proud of his son’s work. Use of this technology can be enhanced further by embedding the screencasts onto a  website, blog or virtual learning environment (VLE). An example of this can be seen on www.amazingict.co.uk/maths.

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One school in Telford has created its own screencast channel via the free showme app. The two year 4 teachers are easily able to delete screencasts that convey misleading information leaving a range of resources accessible to parents, students and other staff - see http://www.showme.com.

One of the other free apps available is called Doceri (http://www.doceri.com). This product allows the audio for the screencast to be rerecorded if mistakes are made first time around.

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3: Use of images

When students come in to the room I usually have a large image projected to grab attention and encourage discussion. The easiest way to do this is to use the home screen of the Microsoft search engine Bing  www.bing.com . You can scroll through images from the previous week to find an image that relates to maths. Counting, grouping, symmetry, 2D and 3D shapes can be easily spotted as stimuli for learning and as a method of reinforcing key vocabulary in a low key but effective way.

An easy way of showing a range of images linked to a topic is by using a website called Taggalaxy which automatically searches images from the collaborative photo sharing site Flickr. It then displays the images as a planet http://www.taggalaxy.de. I have used it for topics linked to spirals and polygons.

You must check content before presenting to the children as the images chosen are from a site that uses photographs taken by individuals across the world.

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My favourite way of sharing photos, drawings and students’ work is by taking a photo on my phone and then emailing it via a dedicated email address to an online storage site such as Flickr. These pictures can then be shared with the world by adding a widget to your website which automatically displays the pictures that have been taken. See www.amazingict.co.uk for an example. Clearly you must keep the email address secret or anyone will be able to send pictures to the website. It is also important to remember to take photos over students’ shoulders so that they are not readily recognisable.
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4: Use of computer games

Games have moved forward a long way during the last few years. One of the most successful that I have used in schools has been Mathletics
. www.mathletics.co.uk . Students can compete with others around the world on a range of numeracy tasks. Once the task has been selected three other students who have chosen the same task begin together in a race through the questions. This competitive element makes repetitive tasks such as practicing multiplication more engaging. As students develop new skills they are rewarded with gold bars and points that enable them to enhance their personal avatar. This concept of having an avatar that represents the user is popular in many gaming environments and is a well proven method of motivating students and encouraging them to log on regularly. Mathletics is a subscription site with students having their own logon providing a safe, managed (social) network. Other online games that I have found to be effective in providing students with a platform to practice skills and explore new content are Mangahigh www.mangahigh.com , Sumdog (http://www.sumdog.com) and Educationcity (http://www.educationcity.com).

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5: Blogging

Use of blogs in which teachers and students post content online for an audience to read and comment on is now common in schools. Clearly all content must be approved or moderated by the adults in the school. Over the last 6 months I have been setting up a weekly blog post based on a request from a school to help students solve ‘word based maths problems and to promote writing projects’. The content of the blog has developed steadily with posts being added from both PC and iPad using the blogging site http://www.j2webby.com . Images such as maps, drink cartons and 3D shapes are used to support the problem solving activities. Mathematical vocabulary is reinforced with students having to read extensively to be able to solve the problems. The feedback has been very encouraging with Bromley Jones the Headteacher of Randlay School stating ‘We asked Richard, as part of an internal school programme to ‘Get children writing’, to develop and promote blogging with some of our reluctant writers and this he has done with great success which has had an extremely positive impact on the children and on the school staff’.

Schools that use blogs regularly are encouraged to link up with 3 other schools across the world. Over the last 12 months 100,000 pupils have been involved in QuadBlogging from 3000 classes in 40 countries Details can be found via the website  http://quadblogging.net . If you are interested in setting up your own blog you can either download  a self-hosted blogging tool such as www.wordpress.org or use an existing structure already set up for you by educational companies such as http://www.J2e.com  or http://primaryblogger.co.uk

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6: Immersive Spaces

An immersive space is either an existing classroom or a redesigned space that features a range of different stimuli. Typically these include projectors for projecting images or video, speakers for audio, objects that link to the project and digital devices that can be explored. In addition changes of temperature and the use of different smells can make the learning experience memorable and hence easier to recall in the future. In November I spent 2 days in a special school in Telford working in a hemisphere fitted with a 360 degree projection system. I helped the students to imagine travelling to the bottom of the sea inside a small yellow submarine and ways of navigating the solar system in a space craft. The learning involved thinking about distances, speeds, size and magnitude (measured in powers of 10).  The dome and content was provided by Igloo in Education http://www.iglooineducation.com In addition we used a free ipad app called ‘Tick Bait’s Universe’. This was installed onto all the tablet devices available to allow students to explore a model of our universe independently. http://www.youuapps.com

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7: Virtual World Creation

It is worth exploring how you can link the development of maths activities and mathematical vocabulary through the use of 2D and 3D environments. I have used the free graphical programming language Scratch http://scratch.mit.edu with students as young as 7. It is useful for students to know that the width of the games window is 400 units and the height is 250. This enables them to scale movements made. For example, four repeats of 100 units will allow movement across the whole window. In addition, the topic of coordinates can be introduced by referring to the ‘origin’ of (0,0) and then programming the sprite to move to points with other coordinates such as (200,0).

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2Simple’s 2DIY3D allows users to create their own game maze to explore. This is produced by students using a 2D view and is then explored in 3D. It provides the opportunity for discussion of positioning, size and direction of movement. As well as being creative it is great fun to play. Schools that subscribe to Purplemash can allow students to access this from both in school and at home - see http://www.purplemash.com
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I have also found the free download Sketchup 8 to be invaluable for the creation of 3D objects and buildings. http://www.sketchup.com  This enables curriculum links to be made between maths, D&T and Geography. It provides students with opportunities to explore different views, scale, shape, measurement and ratio. Even if these terms are not specifically named students are practically considering their application. Its use has been particularly effective when I have been  working with students who struggle to create 3D images on paper. Sketchup allows not only the creation of a 3D object but also movement around the object and viewing in to the object through the addition of translucent windows. In addition objects created can be exported so that they can be opened and manipulated in Google Earth or the Interactive Whiteboard Software SMART Notebook 11 http://smarttech.com/gb.

8: Gyroscopes and Pinching

Too often apps for tablets are simply reproductions or slight adaptations of existing software or media. Some of the most effective apps make use of the new touch functionality of tablets or the ability of the device to respond to movement and position.

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One such example is Motion Maths Zoom (iOS). It is difficult using the pen and paper method to explain clearly to students that there are numbers that exist between 0 and 0.1 This app allows users to navigate down through intuitive zooming (pinch and reverse pinch!) to see that there are values between 0 and 0.1. This exploration allows students to develop an understanding of this key mathematical concept.

A key thing when supporting students to develop skills linked to fractions is to help them achieve success. I have met lots of adults who tell me they struggled with fractions at school. Motion Math HD (iOS) allows users to bounce objects around the screen and, using the movement sensors on the iPad, supports the development of an understanding of percentages, fractions and piecharts. For example you can bounce the fraction 1/3 up and down until it is 1/3 of the way from the left hand edge of the screen. The app takes the format of a game: students are encouraged to move up to the next level and hence be faced with more demanding questions.

Before investing in new tablet technology it is vital that a school seeks advice on what make and model will suit your school. You will need to consider connectivity, how work will be saved, methods of sharing and security (both physical and digital).  See example video for Android Tablet here.

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9. Fast and Slow

I am sometimes concerned that some topics are covered over and over again in ways that are too similar. In the UK there is currently a move towards teaching topics and key vocabulary in primary schools that used to be introduced in secondary schools. I have three major concerns

  • That students will not be challenged enough in the first year or two of secondary and there will be too much repetition.
  • That some secondary teachers make too many assumptions about the content covered and the depth of coverage in the primary schools.
  • That some primary school teachers focus on rote learning that is fact based and don’t encourage topics to be explored in a playful and enjoyable way

This is a real concern for all schools and regular dialogue between secondary schools and their feeder primaries is vital.

Online content that is available for students at home as well as in school can support progress and foster development of a love of mathematics. One of my favourite sites is the YouTube Channel by Vi Hart. I encourage teachers to make their own mathematical videos. An example is the superfast coin animation.

10: Updating your numeracy policy

Using free websites such as PDF Escape it is possible to edit existing PDF documents by adding hyperlinks to websites and online video tutorials. For example, if a policy document states that students should be able to calculate the perimeter of a rectangle at the end of Year 4, this static document can be linked easily to a video explanation
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Richard Smith can be contacted via 07527464322 or  Richard@iglooineducation.com or @iglooedu
Using ICT to support the learning of Mathematics: 10 practical ideas
ICT has a key role to play in mathematical education in 2013. The nature of ICT means that students can explore, play, compete and collaborate so that they develop the confidence required to be a good mathematician. Richard shares a range of ideas that can extend and enhance learning.
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