Sunday, 18 March 2012

Student-centred use of technology

A lot of the use of technology in mathematics can be very teacher-centred.  Tools such as Interactive Whiteboards can the unintended consequence of reducing student-centred use. Student use of technology can be much more powerful in terms of increasing students’ understanding.

Using technology for problem solving
A few years ago I wanted to construct a dynamic file that would display a cubic based on knowing the position of two turning points.  The task was a lot less trivial than I had initially thought but in solving it I think I learnt more about cubic functions in that hour than I had learnt in all the years previous to that!  My thoughts on completing it were that if this was such a powerful tool for me to learn mathematics through investigation and discovery then I should be giving my students the opportunity to experience this.  This is unlikely to happen through watching me operate software at the front of the class.

As an aside, this is a really nice task.  Using some geometry/graphing software, such as Geogebra or TI-Nspire, add a pair of points to the screen then construct the dynamic cubic that will have these two points as the turning points.

Encouraging student-centred use of technology
One of the issues is giving students access to the technology.  One of the solutions to this is set problems for students to complete outside the classroom.  The use of free tools, such as Geogebra, makes this realistic.

An alternative is to use handheld devices, such as TI-Nspire.  These don’t require access to a computer lab and students are often receptive to their use as they can use many of these in their exams.

As well as giving access to the technology it is important to have effective tasks that encourage learning.  Some examples of tasks (for A level Maths) are available at