Maths & Moodle

Why bother?

I am looking for a Maths Dept that is using Moodle to improve what the classroom is already doing. The dept is successful with very good teachers and great results.

So I would like to see some Maths practice that is beyond the usual ‘VLEs are cool’ stuff I throw at teachers challenging technology in schools.

Email I received from Head of Maths below:

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Thanks for taking an interest in us!

It looks good – a bit like equation editor in Word. How would we use it? This is not a moan, but a genuine question – I’m not sure what the benefits for our students would be in doing maths over a virtual environment, but when you have the time would like to discuss this. From what I have seen of independent schools (mainly Hailbury Group) ITC use is minimal – we are probably quite advanced in comparison. Have you seen any good examples?

Thanks to Ian Usher and Dan Needlestone for discussing/twittering about this with me.

We determined that we already use it for access to rich-media content in the form of electronic text books mapped to KS3 and KS4. Other than this, and the normal VLE exponents (24/7 access), we thought it would be excellent to adopt an idea presented at TeachMeet Bett 2009 by a TechSmith employee teaching at a Primary School. He suggested using Jing (free product) for pupils to record screencasts explaining what they were doing on whiteboard software (graphics package of some sort). If you adapt this model to tablet PCs, you could see more sophisticated sums being sloved and narrated on video. These in turn could be posted to Maths forums within Moodle as a catalogue of good practice or learning. This would be a really neat idea. And work at potentially the highest level of Maths delivered in schools (A Level) would be satisfied by a tablet PC, maybe the tablet eeePC. I’ll have to investigate the tablets a bit more as I have never owned one but hopefully the annotation facilities won’t be too far away from pencil and paper. The Maths department have expressed their reluctance to move away from that media before but this might tip the balance.

It’s good to talk.

In fact it is quite central to the learning process in mathematics that ideas and reasoning are expressed and challenged within a social context. The moodle VLE brings value added dynamism to this milieu. It is so much more than a text book, but in theory operating in much the same way, being as it is as medium through which the learner interacts with the mathematics and other learners – so nothing to be afraid of then.

The obstacles to good quality talk in mathematics as a mode of learning can be very effectively ameliorated through the use of computers in general. Motivation for one, is widely agreed to be higher, and collaboration on a VLE offers an intensely social and non-threatening platform. The multimodal opportunities for collaborating in constructing mathematical understanding are enormous. Podcasts, screencasts, written forum posts, and the gold dust of the discussion that can follow all offer the chance for more meaningful exploration of mathematical ideas.

I am interested in your comments, DB, about the gentleman from Techsmith. I too found resonance with this presentation at the Teachmeet. In fact, I had a go (Lisa would be proud) the next day in class at a fractions podcast along these lines. If only there were a way of getting them to be able to show there jottings as per the mathstrain.com example, as you say we have no tablet pcs. It ticks a number of boxes, in particular, it is a real struggle to get children to show their workings and jottings in maths. It focuses on process and not the answer. It gives a purpose to talking, and listening, to mathematical reasoning.

We can all understand reluctance to move away from a medium that already ‘works’ – though better for some than others. But that’s not really what is called for here. What is called for is to have a go. There is still place for independent practice and reflection. No need to through away your pencils yet, although this may not be the best time to invest heavily in new text books!

Thanks for this Matthew.

It is possible there are other solutions than using a tablet PC to do Maths notation. With Promethean boards you can use ActivSlates which is a wireless device that allows user to write on a board (like a graphics tablet) to produce content on the IWB. Or a simple graphics tablet connected to any PC. I am exploring both these options and will let you know if they are effective.

Currently in our school, tablet PCs are not supported as they run on a different operating system. This could be reviewed but will take time for ICT Services to test.