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Digital technologies enhance maths learning

25 November, 2011

Digital technologies enhance maths learning

How the digital world has changed the way primary school children learn and understand maths is the subject of a new book launched yesterday at the University of Waikato, Tauranga.

Author Dr Nigel Calder, who is the University’s Partnership and Liaison Manager in Tauranga and a specialist in mathematics education, said his book, Processing Mathematics Through Digital Technologies, looks at the way children’s understanding develops because of learning alternatives offered through digital technologies.

“Digital technologies open up a wealth of possibilities in mathematics learning, and as children work in that environment their learning develops,” he said. “Often they learn concepts that are normally well beyond their age because they are exposed to them regularly and in different ways.”

Dr Calder said digital media offers opportunities to do a lot more than is possible by hand, for example, the dynamic exploration of number patterns, creating and manipulating shapes, or looking at data visually with the use of graphs.

“Using spreadsheets and graphs to show patterns and being able to manipulate the data with instant results is a really powerful learning tool. Often students will see a surprising result and then question how the result was reached. It stimulates mathematical thinking.”

Dr Calder said numeracy programmes are still critical to the school curriculum but digital technologies are able to build on these with realistic problem solving tasks and interactive games which are powerful tools for secondary students as well.

Students who have been uncomfortable with mathematical concepts in the past have also found it motivating to learn maths in a new environment, he said.

“Importantly the research shows that complementing traditional mathematics learning with digital technologies increases children’s motivation and risk taking. They are motivated to explore mathematical problems in new and challenging ways.”

The book also offers a range of suitable tasks involving such tools as GoogleMaps and digital cameras, and considers the ways the nature of classrooms and learning might evolve in the future.

Dr Calder’s investigation, which spanned four years and focused on local schools, is one of several research projects being conducted in the Bay of Plenty region by University of Waikato education lecturers based in Tauranga.

Every-body counts” is a two-year study funded by the New Zealand Council for Educational Research’s (NZCER) Teaching and Learning Research Initiative, involving two schools in the Waikato and Bay of Plenty. It is investigating what health and physical education (HPE) looks like in primary schools and how national health initiatives are impacting teaching and learning. Tauranga lecturer Marg Cosgriff is conducting the study along with Hamilton-based Dr Kirsten Petrie and University of Otago’s Dr Lisette Burrows.

Senior lecturer Barbara Whyte has been part of a two-year University of Waikato study to research how visual arts and drama can be meaningfully integrated into the wider curriculum, for example, as part of larger inquiries across science, environmental education, technology and literacy. The Connecting Curriculum, Connecting Learning project, also funded by NZCER’s Teaching and Learning Research Initiative, has involved three Bay of Plenty schools and is due to be completed early next year.

Last year lecturer Chris Brough completed her Masters research which focussed on what happened when teachers from three local primary schools used student-centred curriculum integration techniques in their classrooms. The research indicated that this technique, which involves students in curriculum planning and making classroom decisions, helped to engage them in their learning by creating relevant and stimulating classroom environments.


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