Saturday, December 1, 2012

Mathematics from the masses

The web is awash with wonderful resources for teaching mathematics - plus some sites pedalling pedagogy best avoided.  What follows is a purely personal selection of some of the more interesting and worthwhile sites that beamed out from my screen this month. (Follow the blue links to be taken to the sites mentioned.)

So you think you know how to teach mathematics?

Conrad Wolfram is renown as a “boat rocking” thinker and innovator.  This presentation challenges current educational methods for teaching mathematics.  In an entertaining speech Wolfram asks what is mathematics and then describes it as a four stage process consisting of:
  1. Posing the right question
  2. Putting the question into a mathematical framework or context
  3. Calculating
  4. Converting the answer back into a real world context.
Wolfram states that students spent 80% of their time at stage three - performing calculations, often manually.  He states that this is odd given that computers / calculators can do this much better than any human brain and that we should be concentrating our efforts on the other three stages.  A thought provoking video lasting 26 minutes - watch it over a coffee and think about it long after.
  • Open ended questions.
The maths world is awash with the power of open ended questions rather than a steady diet of closed questions.  But how do we formulate good open ended questions?  This powerpoint, based upon the work of Peter Sullivan, shows how it can be done.
  • Early Counting . Research cited at edweek.org says that teaching pre-schoolers to count (as opposed to just recite numbers) to 20 is an advantage later in life

Resources that you might find useful.
  • A pinterest site shared by classroom teacher Laura Chandler with lots of resources used by mid-primary teachers.  Not all of it pushes the boundaries of mathematics teaching but much of it would be useful to classroom based teachers at this level.

  • Mathplayground - a good site for classroom teachers with lots of areas to explore - allows effective teaching not just drill and practice.

  • NCES Kid’s Zone.  A collection of web based tools for graphing and probability for primary students.  The applications are accessed via buttons on the top of the screen.
  • A+ click A wide ranging free site from grad 1 to 12 covering wide range of mathematics. Problem and logical thinking questions to suit the needs of most teachers.
  • How many texts are sent every day in your town?  The New York Times provided this bit of maths based on a perhaps surprising statistic - that the number of texts sent last month fell for the first time in history.  However, the linked article provides all the information students would need to extrapolate to your home area. If we assume that the number of texts sent per person is constant across all areas (but we may choose not to accept this assumption - coming up with another figure might be useful in itself) and the population of our area is (???) then how many texts might be sent from our home?  In fact, challenging the statistics provided might be even more fun. What is the average number of text sent each day by members of your class? Would this hold true across all grade levels and classes? How might we find out? Once done, what is our estimate?

Hmmm...
  • Not everyone enjoys mathematics.  New research has found that just thinking about doing mathematics can cause headaches in some people.  
  • Still on the brain, Scientific American reports research that suggests that the brain can do mathematics unconsciously. (This might explain the phenomena of students who appear asleep in class but still manage to get some work done.)

Math page
If you enjoyed this post you might enjoy exploring my maths page which features other posts of a similar nature - some with video worth using with students, and some recreational maths developed to share a love of mathematics.
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