Category Archives: Maths Technology

The Mastery of Multiple Representation

I was invited speak at the Maths Mastery conference in London last month. My essential brief was to engage with using technology to support mathematics learners. I have increasingly wanted to take a wide view of things so I interpreted technology very liberally. Having trained teachers in using graphing calculators for both TI and HP for many years, I am well versed in the language of multiple representations. The possibility is there to see a function represented graphically, symbolically and as a table of values and to swap quickly between them and to see how each representation gave you different insights into the nature of the function.

For example, a linear function has a particular algebraic form, it has a straight line graph and a table of values with a common difference. We exploited all of these in our Pizza project, showing that the natural tendency when watching change over time (the declining temperature of a cooling pizza) is to look for a linear change. The difference is roughly equal over the minute intervals we used, for the 10 minute length of the experiment. This is forcefully confirmed visually when a real time graph being drawn is very nearly a straight line. So, we feel empowered to hypthesise a linear function which symbolically can be used to calculate extrapolations. It is these that undermine our initial thoughts (put time = 24 hours into the function and we quickly see there is something wrong). Then we can go back to the graph and change the axes to see the nature of the slight curve and look again at the nature of the differences from equal differences, which themselves have a pattern.

It is clear that this notion of multiple representations runs throughout mathematics mastery. Having run ATM branch for such a long time it is good that the Singaporeans who kicked the mastery thing off did fully acknowledge that all they were doing was recovering the work of the founders of the ATM. The ATM started as the association of teaching aids in mathematics. The teaching aids of Cattegno, Dienes, Cuisenaire et al. had largely been removed from school classrooms, especially in secondary schools, but are now making a welcome return. The physical manipulative is a powerful representation. Converted to a picture of itself it is a diagram and both of these represent some number or calculation or more. Teachers show pictures of things and assume they are the thing. A picture of a chocolate cake is not a chocolate cake. (Ask Magrit for more on this and let the NCETM know). A graph is not a function, nor is the symbolic representation. Developing mathematicians need to learn the art of switching views. So, teachers need to give them opportunities to do so.

So, we have computer technology, manipulative technology and I finished with human technology. The learner experiencing the mathematics within themselves. I started with the classic maths gym where everyone holds their arms in the shape of different graphs. I do linear functions varying a and b in f(x)=ax+b (after some errors, everyone knows what the a and the b do) and then quadratics f(x)=ax²+bx+c (here everyone knows what the a and the c do. But what does the b do?) It is always good to find out what you don’t know. Feeling it within yourself is however a powerful experience. More dramatic (but in truth I only got enough time to say it), is to solve puzzles as a human team. The frogs puzzle and the tower of Hanoi (correctly the tower of Brahma) where a team each play the part of one of the pieces. No communication of any kind is allowed. So, you have to feel your own part in the process. This yields insights of a qualitatively different type than is possible doing the whole thing yourself. Teams have done this in the Mayor’s Fund’s count on us challenge (that I run for them) and become so good we had to abandon it. We now get teams to compete as the counters in a game of Hex on a 4 by 4 boards (drawn with huge hexagons on the floor).  They still find this nicely hard. Try it.

So, take a wide view. Mastery is rooted in multiple representations (and in the ATM), but the technology that can be used to represent them are many and varied, as are the representations themselves.

Technology and Maths Exploration

20151008_110555 - Copy (450x800)It is always good to get the chance to actually teach real kids in a real school. I have always said that if you are going to teach students about linear functions, it would be a crime to do it without any technology. So, up comes the topic and in I go with the technology. We have organised a class set of HP Prime handhelds for the school and my job was to get students started using them, so they would be sufficiently familiar at the start of the linear functions topic. Continue reading Technology and Maths Exploration

HP Prime Instant Set Up and Update

I had the opportunity to visit the very beautiful Swiss city of Zurich last week to run a session for Swiss senior high school maths teachers. It is always very interesting to see the differences in the way that mathematics teaching and indeed schools are in different countries. Firstly, the school is for ages 16-19 and has roughly 3000 students in a city centre environment. Striking interior architecture, excellent catering facilities, a range of fascinating teaching spaces and a very well equipped presentation room were all very impressive (and that’s not to mention the three floors of underground heated car parking!) Continue reading HP Prime Instant Set Up and Update

Talking Maths in the Esoteric Domain: HP Prime Wireless

At the ATM London Branch conference on Saturday, Kate Gladstone-Smith from Langdon Park School in East London, presented her research into the nature of communication she had observed in maths classrooms and how this differed according to the set, the students were in. (Anyone not from the UK will need to know that in English schools teachers decide in advance how well students will do with a subject and place them in ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ sets (i.e. class/teacher groups) accordingly). Continue reading Talking Maths in the Esoteric Domain: HP Prime Wireless

Wireless Prime has arrived!

I took delivery of a box of new Primes with the wireless kit last week. This is really exciting. From a pedagogic point of view, it seems to me that the big move is to generate genuine classroom dialogue, supported by serious technology. The Prime solution gives you enough machines for a class, in a box you can easily hold in one hand. You give them out to your students. They turn them on. You launch the connectivity software on your PC and that’s it. Everyone is connected. Continue reading Wireless Prime has arrived!

Pinch to Zoom on the HP Prime!

If you have an HP Prime (if you haven’t then naturally, you must get one!), plug it into your computer via USB, launch the connectivity kit and prepare to be amazed by the smoothest upgrade you’ve ever seen! On launching, the connectivity kit asks if you want to upgrade the kit and the calculator. You certainly want to do both. When the connectivity kit is finished, launch it again and turn the calculator on. You will be promPted to continue, but aside from that it will get on AND update the calculator’s firmware. Total about 3 minutes, with the the calculator part taking a minute or so. Continue reading Pinch to Zoom on the HP Prime!

IT supporting kids learning in maths: what is the problem?

I completed my PGCE in 1983 (oh my!) and went to work in a comprehensive school in Corby new town in the East Midlands. (Then it was the largest town in England without a railway station, somewhat depressed by the closure of the largest steelworks in Europe). The walls of my classroom had a large bench running all the way round. On this bench were set out about 8 RM 480Z work stations. For anyone who doesn’t remember, these were competitors to the BBC Micro. When I taught transformational geometry, I could pause in the lesson and get my students to gather round the computers and engage with an activity I set up for them where they would create a shape and transform it using LOGO. They would make hypotheses and test them, seeing the result immediately, visually, dynamically.

I have recently observed a number of lessons on transformational geometry in London comprehensives. Despite every classroom being fully equipped with a networked computer and an interactive whiteboard and in every case, the teacher having been trained within the last year on using GeoGebra to teach transformational geometry, not one single diagram moved at all in any of the lessons. Students were shown object and image and asked what transformation connected them. An agreement was reached (often with much disagreement and uncertainty) and that would be that. There was no way that anyone could validate the agreement or see the transformation enacted. This is the traditional teaching method of ‘proof by teacher says’ or its slightly more inclusive counterpart ‘proof by agreement’. Now, just in case anyone who was there in the room with me can recognise themselves, I should share that everything else about all of those lessons was really good, sometimes quite outstanding. It is simply that giving kids experience of the mathematics, rather than showing them how it works, seems to be such a long way from conventional school practice, that even with everything else in place, teachers find it hard to achieve. Yet in 1983, it was just what you did and we had reliable technological tools ready in the classroom to support it.

I have had lengthy discussions about technology in the classroom with colleagues in teacher education and most recently I have heard about the various classroom manager systems that are being developed by the hardware companies and the IWB people. The essential premise is that you connect to handheld devices that the students have. The screens of their devices are available in thumbnail format on the teacher machine and hence the classroom screen (and able to be enlarged to show the whole class the work of an individual). The software has polling and analysis, so questions and messages can be sent and answers received and engaged with. With this level of technology available, it will again be possible to do what I was happily doing in 1983, interrupting an ordinary lesson in an ordinary classroom to engage with an idea dynamically using technology and seeing what the students are doing (I wandered round and looked at the screens and if I saw something interesting, I got the others to come over and see). At the moment, teachers feel they have to book the computer room to achieve this effect and we all know how unlikely/impossible that is.

But it is a compelling thought. Now, the teacher can manage the dialogue, setting a task, students can engage with the software and discuss the issues. When ideas emerge these can be shared with the whole class. A real dialogic engagement. So, what’s stopping us? Wheel the trolley of laptops in and they will connect seemlessly to the network with no fuss and then it’s OK? Of, course it doesn’t/won’t. Not least because controlling dynamic software from a track pad is a nightmare, but have you ever made a half class set of Laptops connect to a network? So, bring in the set of iPads the school just massively invested in. Agh. No manager software and as yet only a very cut down version of GeoGebra.

The Holy Grail is that everyone turns their smart phones on and launches the iOS or Android app they need, and we get some generic tablets for those that don’t have smart phones and these all connect. Even then we would need better software (unless you invest £30 a head for TI-nspire on iOS which is really good). I hope to get delivery of a trial set of HP Prime wireless graphing calculators very soon. Naturally, they do everything that that I have said. The massive difference is that they have an auto detecting dongle (the same as the ones that make wireless keyboards work). No installation, no logging in, if the device is in the room, the screen appears on the teacher machine. People say: ‘what’s the point of graphing calculators these days?’ I say: it is a piece of bespoke hardware with an optimised interface for the range of maths functions you need, with really well developed and well thought out maths software. Moreover, compared to iPads they are really cheap. They are small, easy to carry and importantly easy to charge. You just have to be able to grab the box on your way into lesson and hand them out the same as you would hand out rulers and compasses and they just work when you turn them on. Only then can we get back to 1983 and have technology seemlessly integrated into ordinary lessons in ordinary classrooms. Only now we’ve got rather classier software to play with.

I would like to work with anyone who is using any comparable kit that can achieve the same effect. I would be delighted to set up a research project where we can examine the actual classroom use of these technologies. I would be keen to hear from schools who think that this sort of kit will solve the problem of static teaching and would think they could use such technology all the time (not just special occasions). I would happily support such work with loan equipment and support materials. Contact me (chris@themathszone.co.uk).

Apart from the dodgy hairdos and the rusty cars, 1983 had things going for it!

Update for HP Prime

Calling all HP Prime owners. Make sure your ROM is up-to-date. The latest update was released early in December. A quick check is to see if you have the full calender function which is new in this release. (Tap in the top write corner to show the setting, then tap on the date. A full calender will come up if you have the new version, if not, go update!). The procedure is unbelievably simple.

You need the connectivity kit installed on a PC and your HP Prime ready to connect with a USB cable. (The connectivity kit software is on the CD or available to download on my web site. Click here). Run the software. It will probably prompt you to update it when launched. Do this and follow the prompts to complete the installation. When complete, launch the software again and plug the calculator in with your USB cable. You will see the your calculator listed. Right click on the name HP Prime and choose update firmware. Follow the prompts. That’s it. Your Prime should be ready. Double check by marveling in the new Calender facility. Check here for a video showing the checks.

The HP community is in full swing now, check out these videos for HP Prime games by the wonderful MicNic Tetris and ‘Angry Birds‘ and MasterMind from Tony Galton.

Classroom Maths Dialogue with a Handheld

Now that HP prime is launched and I have a few of them to play with (oh and to run training sessions with …) the implications can be tested of having handheld maths technology that connects easily to the teacher computer in a classroom. Ultimately the connection will be wireless but the dongles will not be available until early next year. So, I bought some 5m micro USB cables and could test it in teaching situations. So far only teacher groups, but I’m getting the hang of it.

Calculators ListThere is free emulator software and the connectivity kit is freely available too. You can try this out yourself by opening a number of instances of the emulator and the connectivity kit on your PC. Just go to http://www.hpgraphingcalc.org/hp-prime-links-and-resources.html for the files. The most impressive thing is how utterly seemless it is. Install the connectivity kit and launch the software. Down the side there are three tabs: ‘Calculators’, ‘Content’ and ‘Class’. Just plug in an HP Prime calculator (or launch an instance of the emulator software and you will see it listed. Here, I’ve plugged in one real machine and am running my emulator. Clicking next to the device brings down a view of all of the content on the machine. Clicking the content tab allows us to author new content and then save it to the machine. You can create tests and polls. (Right click on the thing you want to create and ‘new’ comes up. Click that. When you are done, click the small save icon in the top left of the screen. The dialogues are pretty self-explanatory so I’ll leave you with that. When you are done, go back to the new item you created and right click to ‘send to class’ and it will be on the machine. Imagine being in a classroom in which simply by launching the software and machines being in the room, you can share content with them. No connections no log ins, just get started. But to me it bursts into life when you click the ‘class’ tab. Now you can see the screens of all of the connected machines. (Remember, when wireless is there, connected just means ‘in the same room’.). Class viewThese refresh every couple of seconds (although right click and refresh speeds this up if needs be. Also, right click and ‘project’ creates a resizeable image to show the whole class. So, now I can ask my class to work on a problem and watch what they do. When something interesting happens I can (if I want) bring up that screen to show the whole class. But, there is more, … I can open a messages window. From there I can send a private message to a single machine or a message to the whole class. MessagesThis appears on their screen and they can even respond and we can discuss. Personal in-class responses to individual students work monitoring the outcome of their thinking from the maths appearing on their screen. Now, I always say get students to work one between two, so we’ll have 15 screens up in a full classroom. I tried this with 6 Greenwich PGCE students and it is a bit frantic trying to respond individually. However, really, I should be more teacherly and give the occasional prompt looking our for the ‘Aha’ moments. The possibility to get to the nub of student understanding is tantalising. What do you think? I am dying to get the wireless dongles and try this in a routine classroom with ordinary kids. Then we’ll see what they can do. Exciting times.

What is this maths that we are teaching?

It is with envy that some mathematics educators in England look to our colleagues in the Netherlands where the Freudenthal institute has generated a rich, coherent research debate which has been widely implemented in schools. Realistic Mathematics Education offered the antidote to the formalism of the New Maths based on Hans Freudethal’s view that mathematics was not pre-formed. He said; “… the global structure of mathematics to be taught should be understood: it is not a rigid skeleton, but it rises and perishes with the mathematics that develops in the learning process. Is it not the same with the adult mathematician’s mathematics?” So it is very sad to hear that the Commission for Examinations in the Netherlands is considering banning graphing calculators from public examinations. What is it that a calculator does that could be damaging to mathematics developing in the learning process? A machine can do only what a machine can do. If mathematicians continue to fulfill an important role, then clearly they must be able to things that machines cannot do. In his 2001 novel, Uncle Petros and Goldbach’s Conjecture, Doxiadis’ eponymous mathematician dismisses any process a machine could do as ‘shopping maths’. That of course includes anything a computer algebra system (CAS) could do.

So, learners of Freudenthal’s mathematics should have access to the tools to do the shopping maths, to free up the thinking space to engage with real mathematics; solving problems, generating conjectures, developing proof. These are the art of mathematics, not the mechanical grind. Godfrey Hardy acted as the foil to Ramanujan’s genius, but in the ‘apology’ he makes clear how well he understood that Ramajan’s ability for finding extraordinary new relationships that only he could see, was the real mathematical gift. Getting it into a publishable state was the routine work for afterwards.

The excellent Project Euler takes as it’s premise that mathematicians will have access to a high level programming language (Python, which naturally has a powerful CAS) to engage with problems in number theory. The wonderfully named https://brilliant.org/ designed for potential International Maths Olympiad candidates has a whole section of problem solving requiring programming (and hence CAS) available.

Having a machine capable of high level mathematics available in a public examination in mathematics forces examiners to take a considered view of what the maths is that they are examining. It prevents them from asking students to replicate what machines can do and focuses their thinking on the maths that matters. The maths that Hans Freudenthal was so keen to preserve in the Netherlands, against the onslaught of formalism.

This sad situation was brought to my attention through the English translation of a response by Erik Korthof to an advert for the new HP Prime graphing calculator. He suggests that the absence of graphing calculators in the past allowed the construction of ‘proper exams’. The task of mathematics education should not be to make the lives of examiners easy. Clearly, asking a student to complete a mechanical task that would be simply done by a machine is very simple. To construct a question knowing that the student has access to such a machine is hard. Specifically so, because the question must demand genuine mathematical thinking and that puts great demands on examiners. In the UK, the most progressive mathematics education project (MEI) for A Level students (age 18) have just had their first cohort complete an examination module with a CAS calculator available. The result is thoughtful, highly mathematical questions of exactly the type University maths courses are excited to see. The link will take you to their answer to Erik Korthof’s question: “Is secondary education served with a Computer Algebra System?”. Clearly they answer a resounding yes and MEI are major players in the future of maths education in England.

As I’ve said elsewhere the existence of tools like HP Prime which allow access to powerful mathematical visualization and calculation tools in the classroom liberates students from the mechanical processes that prevent them thinking deeply about the mathematics. Certainly there will be many lessons where the calculators are put firmly away and students will learn and practice these mechanical processes, like drawing graphs and manipulating algebra, not only because they need to see how they work, but also to give them a better feel for the outcomes. Happily teachers are sophisticated enough to manage this. They can also find secure ways to use exam modes to ensure devices adhere to local regulations. Schools are expert in this. These logistical issues should not be used as an excuse for not allowing students the tools that professionals have access to and reducing what is called maths in schools to a collection of mechanical processes. Especially not from the birthplace of RME and the beautiful, powerful view of mathematics presented to the world by Hans Freudenthal.