Sunday, July 18, 2010

Digital teaching aids make mathematics fun

Anyone who struggled with maths in school will appreciate how difficult learning complex mathematical formulas can be. Books, exercises and traditional teaching methods instruct students on how different maths equations work, but often fail to explain why they work or, even more importantly, what use they have in the real world. This gap between what is taught in the classroom and what applies in reality has widened further in recent years as new technology, the internet and computer games have made traditional teaching methods seem antiquated and out of touch.

“Students are increasingly living in two worlds: the world of the classroom and the real world... and the two are growing farther apart,” cautions Chronis Kynigos, a researcher at the Research Academic Computer Technology Institute (RACTI) and director of the Educational Technology Lab at the University of Athens.
The problem has not gone unnoticed by the European educational community. But efforts to use computers, games and digital media in maths teaching have often been disjointed and sporadic, with results varying widely between schools, curricula and countries.

Working in the EU-funded ReMath project, the team developed new teaching aids, in the form of software tools known as Dynamic Digital Artefacts (DDAs), and a comprehensive set of Pedagogical Plans for teachers to use within the guidelines of national education curricula. The results of their efforts have been put to the test in schools across Europe and are being commercialised by three spin-off companies.
“The state-of-the-art tools and Pedagogical Plans cover a wide variety of mathematical fields,” Kynigos, who coordinated the ReMath project, says. “Some use traditional mathematical representations while others are more like interactive games that show the role maths plays in the real world.” For example, MoPix, one of the DDAs developed by the team, uses animation and games to explain Newtonian formulas. Another program called MaLT provides students with a set of programmable mathematical controllers with which to manipulate objects in a virtual environment.

The introduction of this interactive style of teaching can have a dramatic effect in classrooms, something the ReMath researchers witnessed for themselves during trials conducted in high schools in the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Greece.While some teachers took time to warm to the idea and adjust their teaching style accordingly, they quickly came to see the benefits as students showed more interest in class and found it easier to grasp difficult mathematical concepts, Kynigos says. “Many students commented that they didn’t even feel like they were in maths class at all,” he notes.

By themselves, the tools can only go so far toward improving mathematics education. In addition, the Educational Technology Lab has created Polymechanon, a science theme park in Greece containing a set of serious collaborative games using technologies from two of the DDAs: MaLT and Cruislet, a vector-driven geographic navigator.

(ICT Results. "Digital Teaching Aids Make Mathematics Fun." ScienceDaily 24 February 2010. 19 July 2010 <­ /releases/2010/02/100224134027.htm>.)

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