Free Mathematics Software Resources; Which Word Caught Your Eye?

Article excerpt

Computers have been in schools and indeed some mathematics classrooms for more than 35 years. Some schools have chosen to centralise their computers in laboratories, while others have a mix of configurations and networks. Whatever the case, how extensive has been the classroom use of computers for teaching and learning in mathematics? What has their presence added to the classrooms and the learning experiences of students? What effect has there been on the pedagogy of teachers in this time? How has the content of the mathematics curriculum been changed by the presence of computers in mathematics classrooms or in accessible laboratories?

We could attempt to collect some quantitative data about the first question and an examination of past and present published curriculum documents of the states and territories would provide a "picture" of any influence the presence of computers may have had on mathematics content. The other two questions are not so easy to tackle in a scholarly manner. It is not my intention in this article to answer any of the questions! Rather, my intentions are:

* to present some observations about current use of online learning objects developed for the states and territories by The Learning Federation (TLF);

* to raise the awareness of teachers and teacher educators to the existence of these free software resources that are beginning to alter the patterns of computer use, pedagogy and content in classrooms; and

* to present some findings of a recent pilot study in the use of these digital resources.

Access to computers and the availability of suitable software has long been the impediment to a greater use of computers in mathematics. "I only have a couple of computers in my classroom," or "I have to book the computer lab weeks ahead," are common responses, particularly from secondary mathematics teachers, to justify lack of use of computers. With respect to software, the response frequently refers to cost, availability and suitability.

Software concerns are being ameliorated because mathematics software is now freely available to teachers in Australian and New Zealand schools as a result of an initiative of the Australian state and territory governments and the New Zealand government to develop online curriculum content. Learning objects are digital materials designed to engage and motivate student learning. The mathematics and numeracy learning objects are, in the main, small stand-alone interactive tools or programs. They are designed to encourage mathematical thinking by challenging students to explore possibilities, conjecture, analyse, solve problems and reflect on their learning. Mathematics and numeracy learning objects are scaffolded learning tasks in which students received feedback on their learning in a variety of supportive and engaging ways. The development of these learning objects has been undertaken around four themes: counting and quantifying; representing and visualising; variation, transformation and change; and uncertainty and predictability.

The Learning Federation Schools Online Curriculum Content Initiative was established in 2001 to undertake the development of the digital resources. A substantial number of learning objects in the mathematics area has been published by TLF, and more will be published in the third phase of the initiative which will run until 2009. Concomitantly, TLF and its collaborators--teachers, software developers and curriculum specialists--have developed and used a process by which learning objects are planned, designed, developed and tested to meet demanding criteria and high quality standards. The three-way collaboration is the key to success of the objects.

So what makes the mathematics learning objects distinctive and how do they assist teachers and students?

Cutting edge programming tools and ICT

Advances in software such as Shockwave and Flash, delivery of digital material by broadband, and the reduction in the cost and ease with which CD-ROMs are able to be produced are factors which have facilitated the development and sharing of interactive learning objects. …