Technology in Mathematics Education

By Pope, Sue | Mathematics Teaching, May 2013 | Go to article overview

Technology in Mathematics Education


Pope, Sue, Mathematics Teaching


Sue Pope anticipates MT235 with a perspective on a future that seems far from joined-up

I am excited at the prospect of the forthcoming Mathematics Teaching 235 (July 2013) which will focus on digital technologies in the mathematics classroom. When I first joined ATM, my PGCE tutor was an editor of Micromath and its existence made it very public that the use of technology in mathematics education was something ATM was serious about.

1 recall when General Council decided to not keep technology separate in Micromath but, to ensure that Mathematics Teaching should present a range of articles including those related to technology enhanced learning of mathematics, and to exploit digital technologies through the use of associated web based content. I think the wealth of video and interactive material now available on the ATM website is testament to the success ofthat change.

Despite ATM's on-going commitment to the use of digital technologies and the growing body of evidence that it can enhance learning when used well, 'how' it is used is absolutely crucial, Ofsted (2008, 2011) regularly reports that students have little hands-on use of technology. Even though the use of technology has been explicit in the National Curriculum and associated guidance material since its inception in 1 988, using technology continues not to be part of every learner's experience.

The use of calculators has a particularly disappointing history - despite the evidence that calculators are a valuable tool for learning about number and arithmetic for example, (Shuard et al 1991, Ruthven 1998), primary children are often led to believe that using a calculator is cheating, and that the only way to check their arithmetic is with a calculator. Of course, if you don't know how to use a calculator then using one to check your arithmetic may not be very helpful. After all, depending on the calculator, 4 + 5 x 3 might generate an answer of 27 or 19, when only the latter is correct if no brackets are present. The National Curriculum tests at the end of Key Stage 2 have always included a calculator paper. More recently this paper includes one, two, or three items that would be intractable without a calculator as they might involve several calculations involving large numbers and rounding (say) and require the use of a calculator with understanding.

Recently the government announced that this 'calculator paper' is to be abolished, which means the tests will be a less valid assessment of the curriculum than in the past. The likely consequence of this is that primary children will not have access to calculators at all. However the use of calculators in the controversial level 6 papers will continue.

As I write there is a government consultation on a revised curriculum for key stages 1 to 3. This 'revised curriculum' contains a heartening statement on numeracy

Teachers should develop pupils' numeracy in all subjects so that they understand and appreciate the importance of mathematics. Pupils should be taught to apply arithmetic fluently to problems, understand and use measures, estimate when using calculators and other technologies to produce results, and then interpret them appropriately. Pupils should apply their geometric and algebraic understanding, and relate their understanding of probability to the notions of risk and uncertainty. They should also understand the cyclical process of collecting, presenting and analysing data. They should be taught to apply their mathematics to both routine and non-routine problems, including breaking down more complex problems into a series of simpler steps.

Yet, in the preamble under a heading of ICT we find: 'Calculators should not be used as a substitute for good written and mental arithmetic. They should therefore only be introduced near the end of Key Stage 2 to support pupils' conceptual understanding and exploration of more complex number problems, if written and mental arithmetic are secure.

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