Cherish Math with your children

What connotation does the word mathematics brings to your mind?

Many dread the word in any form – Math, Mathematics, Arithmetic, Numeracy and so on. For me the word mathematics brings memories of my Grade 9 High School Math teacher, Angela.  She was a rigid, dogmatic lady who spoke with a heavy Russian accent.  When she peered at you, over her reading glasses, one’s heart froze, and one’s hands and legs started shaking uncontrollably.  This was when my own fear and negative attitude towards the learning of Mathematics began – a fear that I only managed to overcome when I got to university.

Well, thankfully those days are over and I am now a parent of three beautiful daughters, who themselves have had varied experiences of learning mathematics.  Fortunately for them none of their teachers have ever invoked anywhere near the terror levels of teacher Angela, but I do, however, wonder if subconsciously, and through non-verbal cues, I have transferred to them some of my earlier fears and negative attitude towards the learning of mathematics.

What is Mathematics? Mathematics is the abstract science of space, number and quantity. It is a vehicle to cultivate the mind and to get us to think; therefore it is very important when teaching mathematics, to ensure that children have grasped the concept being taught. Well structured questions such as:  ‘Explain it.’  ‘How did you get your answer?’ are a very important means to achieve this end.   It is the process rather than the answer that is important. We need to get away from teaching procedural routines, and encourage our children to think about their thinking (Meta cognition) and get them to appreciate that, just like most things in life; there is usually more than one way to solve a problem.

Dr Yeap Ben Har, a World Renown Math expert from Singapore, visited South Africa recently and gave workshops on the unique approach Singapore take when teaching mathematics, elaborating on the model method they use when problem solving. He believes that to ensure that a child achieves, and develops a positive attitude towards Mathematics the most important contributing factor is adult support and reassurance. According to Dr Yeap Ben Har, when a child is fearful and anxious about learning  Math it originates from the adult interacting with the child (teacher, parent, care giver), and not from the child himself.

Now that we know that the adult’s behaviour and attitude towards Maths is key, we need to ask ourselves as parents, what we can do to help our children master mathematics.  When your child comes home from school with a mathematical problem he can’t solve, be patient, but don’t do it for him.  Begin by asking him:

‘What did you learn about this at school?’

If the answer he gives doesn’t enlighten you, you could then refer to his textbook, workbook or exercise book.  Give your child time to think and explore.  Don’t rush him.  Remember the quality of the practice is more important than the quantity, and never sacrifice your child’s attitude towards mathematics, for the sake of getting good results.

How can we, as parents contribute towards developing a love for Maths in our children?   Make learning fun. For example, when shopping, you can give your child an imaginary budget of X amount, and ask him to work out what items he could purchase, without going over budget.  By incorporating Mathematics into daily life our children will come to appreciate that it is an important life skill.  Playing well known games with your children, such as Snakes and Ladders, Monopoly etc will also develop sound Mathematical concepts, while at the same time ensuring you spend quality time together.   One can also download suitable mathematical games for your child onto their phones, tablets or computers.

We, as parents, also need to be role models for our children, and set an example of being lifelong learners. As Rene Descartes, a French philosopher and mathematician said:   “It is not enough to have a good mind. The main thing is to use it well”.

(Thanks to Jane Horner for Proof Reading and Contribution)

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How will technology impact the future of education?

Reflections from a Study Tour to Israel, MOFET 2013

Technology is progressing so fast that we never seem to be able to keep up to date with it.

As teachers, we sometimes feel that we, the “Desert Generation’s” main objective is to lead our students into the “Promised Land,” and by doing so we ourselves may be left behind, just observing the technological miracles envisaged by this new generation.

There is no question about whether or not technology has an impact on education.  Technology has, and always will, have power on shaping education. The real issue is the approach that we take when handling the changes and challenges that technology conveys.

Rabbi Kook, a significant thinker of the 19th Century said “In every era, you need to learn how to use the elements that influence the generation”. Adapting this to the 21st Century, the approach seems to be to learn what the future holds technologically, so that we can prepare this generation to cope with it.  When examining new and futuristic technologies, one needs to keep in mind the definition of Technology, as given by Allan Kay, an American Computer Scientist.  He said: “Technology is anything that wasn’t around when you were born”. With the constant and endless changes in technologies today, we need to keep this definition in mind.   Think about the new upgraded cell phone that you have just purchased.  How long will it be before a new version comes onto the market?

In the past 30 years, research on education and technology has shown that since computers were introduced to schools, no change has occurred (Prof Hannan Yaniv, 2013).  There is, however, a need to change the way we think about technology and education. These life changing technologies challenge the digital pedagogy and the approach we take to these changes.  Instead of using new tools to change the way and what we learn we are doing what we have always done, but more efficiently (Jay Hurvitz, 2013).

Prof Sheizaf Refaeli from the Haifa University claims that disruptive technology can lead to disruptive change. The more established the organisation the more resistant it is to change e.g. Education.
Thornburg’s definition of disruptive technology is as follows: “an impossible-to-predict game changer that will fundamentally alter the conventional landscape”. The technology which he predicts will create the third education revolution is the always-connected mobile device.

Research shows how Africa is leapfrogging from an unwired, non-existent e-learning infrastructure to a wireless e-learning infrastructure with whole integration of online and wireless technologies and learning management systems (Brown, 2003). As a result, the potential of using mobile technology in Africa to bridge the digital divide is being re-examined and researched.

In this regard many questions are being posed to researchers and policy makers in the Educational field.  For example:

  1. “Do we understand technology enough to develop policies about it in education?”
  2. “When is learning effective?”

The leading answer seems to be that children need to become “designers for learning” and not the “consumers of learning”.  To achieve this end, there is a need for cultural change, and then one has to ask what the role of the teacher is?   The teacher will then be accountable for the quality of the content being learnt.

How can Technology be the catalyst for change? Examples from the Technion

  1. Use of mobile technology, such as laptops, in crowded classrooms to create active learning
  2. YouTube – used as a platform for assignments
  3. Cloud Pedagogy – learning can take place everywhere, no classroom boundaries

Virtual realities, simulations, mobile technology, virtual platform, cloud pedagogy and digital pedagogy, need to be examined to create lifelong learning.   This will equip our students for a future that we ourselves can’t even envisage.

From tablets to tablets

The Digital Classroom

This is the full version for the article published in Jewish life.  

To understand the need for a change from the conventional type of classroom to a digital age classroom, the following question needs to be asked:

“What do our pupils need to learn today to be prepared for tomorrow?”

“We are currently preparing pupils for jobs that don’t yet exist, using technologies that haven’t yet been invented, in order to solve problems we don’t know yet are problems” Richard Riley US Former Secretary of Education

Technology is affecting our lives endlessly; education experts, principals and teachers acknowledge the potential of Technology or ICT (Information, Communication and Technology) in teaching and learning. Most teachers wonder what gadgets/ skills/ qualities are required in order to establish digital age classrooms.

There are three main fundamentals to consider when schools want to establish a digital classroom.  These are:

  1. Technical – Infrastructure, connectivity, software , hardware and gadgets
  2. HR -Teachers’ skills
  3. HR – Maintenance and technical support

One must begin the journey by doing the appropriate planning and preparation, as one of the biggest obstacles experienced by schools when starting to implement digital classrooms is lack of a strategy. Schools should begin with a strategy that addresses technical issues and plans to upgrade the teachers’ ICT skills.  Ensuring proper technical support is also essential. Schools need to have a vision of where they want to go. They need to assess where they are now, and then they need to strategise how they are going to reach their vision of the “digital age classroom”.

Education experts note that pupils need to be equipped with the following skills:

1.  Basic technical skills

1.1   Use of internet (Search, Social Networking, implication of digital footprints, Safety)

2.1   Proficiency in the use of Microsoft applications

3.1   Typing skills

4.1   Internet Copyright

5.1   Citing resources from the net

6.1   Apps on mobile phones and tablets (search, use, develop)

2.  Critical thinking skills – pupils need to be equipped with the skills of life-long learning. This is a self disciplined and self directed skill that enables pupils to adapt to change throughout their lives.

3. Analytical thinking skills – pupils are “bombarded” with information that is at their finger tips, but they need to be able to sift through the information and use only what is needed

4. Communication skills – on a personal to virtual level, peoples’ relationships are based on  communication skills.

5. Creativity and innovation – our pupils need to be able to think creatively to cope with the constant changes occurring in their lives. These skills are useful in every sphere including entrepreneurship and in the business world.

What does the Digital age classroom entail?

The roles of the teachers in a digital classroom remain the same as in an ordinary classroom, i.e, facilitating learning, assessing, correcting, reinforcing and management, but the tools required for the teacher to fulfil her roles differ.

What skills do teachers need to ensure they impart the required ICT skills to students? I believe that teachers need to be lifelong learners and that they continuously need to develop themselves professionally. Teachers need to be adventurous and use pupils’ digital skills while facilitating learning.

Gadgets / tools for the digital teacher:

When considering the introduction of tools and gadgets into the digital classroom the following characteristics of the learning environments should be considered (based on Florida Centre for instructional technology Matrix)

1.Active – Active use of the tool and not passively receiving information

2.Collaborative -Pupils use technology to collaborate with others rather than working individually at all times

3.Constructive -Pupils use technological tools to build understanding rather than simply receive information

4.Authentic- Pupils use technological tools to solve real-world problems

5.Goal Directed -Pupils use technological tools to set goals, plan activities, monitor progress, and evaluate results, rather than simply completing assignments without reflection.

Minimal requirement for the digital classroom:

A teacher must have a laptop and a data projector in her/ his classroom. Later on, this can be upgraded to include Interactive Whiteboards, Tablets/ iPads. Connectivity to Internet is essential in order for teachers to source information and to be able to communicate with pupils and parents. Use of emails is a basic skill and can be used for communicating with parents and for sending homework, assignments or catch-up work to sick pupils. With more advanced technologies, teachers, parents and pupils access a portal, which is a special website designed by the school, to retrieve information and to communicate.

No more chalk and talk – Take out your cell phones and let’s start learning!!

Yes, mobile phones can be used to:

1. Take photos/ videos as part of a HW assignment / portfolio

2. Use cell phones as Clickers. Clickers or classroom performance systems (CPS) are remote control- like gadgets that are used in an interactive way. Teacher can pose questions to the pupils and receive an immediate response which can be viewed, saved, analysed and displayed.  Buying these clickers may be an unnecessary expense which can be avoided by using the following website http://www.polleverywhere.com/

Using Technology for consolidation and differentiation

One of the biggest challenges a teacher has is to accommodate both strong and weak learners. By creating tutorials teachers can provide revision tasks and visualise a concept for children to review at any time.  This is especially useful when pupils have missed a lesson or misunderstood a concept.

The following technology can be used for consolidation and differentiation:

1. Recording a lesson using a  video camera, edit the movie using Microsoft Live Movie Maker on PC or iMovies on Mac

2. Screen casting – simple and user-friendly (Khan Style), recording of the tutorial is done on your laptop using slides or images and your voice. This requires some preparation and the following sites with free downloads can be used as your resource – (http://www.screencast.com/ or Jing – http://www.techsmith.com/jing.html )

3.Create a YouTube channel and post all your videos and Screen casting. No need to re-invent a lesson every year if it is available on the channel

4. Podcasting – voice recording of a lesson with Audacity (http://audacity.sourceforge.net/) for example and sharing via Voicethread http://ed.voicethread.com/

How do schools achieve their vision of establishing digital classrooms?

Schools must have a Professional Development Plan for teachers to ensure that they can meet the demands of the digital age classroom, and so that they can gradually progress from basic integration of ICT to a total transformation where the learning is in the hands of the teachers and the pupils.

ORT SA has been at the forefront of technology integration in education for many years. It has recently been accredited as a Microsoft IT Academy and is running Computer training offering  basic to advanced courses.  For more information about ORT SA and these courses contact: ariellah@ortsa.org.za

“Technology will never replace teachers however teachers who don’t know how to use them will be replaced by those who do” (Unknown)

Reflections on visit to a school in Singapore

The following video was taken at Holy Innocents Primary school in Singapore. This visit was one of the highlights of the Global Math Forum held in Singapore in September. Marshall and Cavendish organised a most valuable and professional forum as  discussed in my previous posts. Enjoy the video and feel free to comment.

A Model of Lesson Study in Singapore

The Lesson Study portrayed in the following video was presented to representatives from South Africa by Peggy Foo, MCI at Evergreen Primary School in Singapore

Lesson Studies are used as a Professional Development Tool. Teachers use this tool to engage in and to systematically examine and reflect on their teaching

Lesson Study is:

  1. 1.       Teacher driven
  2. 2.       Job embedded
  3. 3.       Collaborative learning

Teachers identify the research theme which will be based on the school’s vision. Once the research theme has been identified, the lesson plan is designed and a research lesson conducted. Research lesson is conducted by the research teacher, observers can be internal and external teachers and experts who adhere to observation protocol (not to communicate with pupils, with fellow observers, observe few pupils closely, take detailed notes etc)

In post lesson observation, recapping of the research theme and research lesson are conducted. Comments from observers from lesson study plan teams and from other experts are all taken and a summary is done.

In the research lesson conducted in Evergreen Primary School, the research theme is “thinking and self directed learners”. The aim of research is to identify principles/factors for promoting thinking.

The research lesson was on fractions conducted with a Grade 2 class. It was an interesting lesson conducted using a cake to illustrate whole, halves and quarters.  The recap on terms was followed by the teacher referring to a fraction as part/piece, thereafter putting in order fractions from greatest to smallest and vice versa. Pupils working in pairs were using manipulatives to do the worksheets.

In post observation sessions, the following comments from observes were reflected:

1.       The importance of the use of good questions to check misconception (if 4 is bigger than 2, how come half is bigger than quarter?)

2.       Examine carefully, the use and types of manipulatives.

3.       When using real life examples such as the cake – to utilise it further and in the young group tell stories to probe questions to check prior learning

4.       When group work is required, ensure paired pupils work together nicely without being overtaken by dominant character

5.       Pupils completed work quite quick, which may imply that worksheets were too easy for them. To promote thinking, it may have been advisable to remove manipulatives for the last two questions in the worksheets.

I like the idea of Lesson Study as a PD Tool. I think it is a great way to reflect on any teaching. Though for it to be effective, it has to be run by subject and teaching experts.

Singapore Math roll out in township schools in South Africa by ORT SA

At the recent Global Math Forum organised by Marshall and Cavendish in Singapore, I presented the following Prezi on the Singapore Math roll out in township schools in South Africa by ORT SA.

Notes for the Prezi:

My presentation started with a general background on South Africa, followed by a rather gloomy and most depressing picture of the state of
education in the country.

In a previous post , I portrayed the “Ticking bomb” as described by the Ministry of Higher Education; the distressing situation of the high unemployment rate of a young cohort group, this data being  of Government concern as it has huge implications on the future, as well as the present crime rate and poverty.

When discussing the state of education, it is important to take note of the past, and though 17 years have passed since Apartheid and “the past can no longer serves us as an excuse” as many critics may state, it is interesting to note that 96% of the current teachers were trained during the pre 1994 period with its deep inequalities, leaving them under-prepared for the new system and curriculum.

Therefore the Need-
South Africa is producing too few teachers, especially in key subjects such as Maths and Science.  Moreover,, existing teachers spend too little time in the classroom and many teach poorly when they are in the classroom. With research overwhelmingly showing that good teaching is vital
for better student results, this is a worrying situation. (CDE Recent research).

Government has taken many measures post 1994, and the Curriculum reforms in the form of Curriculum 2005, RNCS and NCS were all based
on “Outcomes Based Education” approach. What is known as OBE is based on Student Centre Learning, with focus on empirically measuring students’ performance (called outcomes). This approach does not specify nor require any particular style of teaching or learning and is based on constructivist methods, discouraging traditional education based direct instruction.

Professor Gopinathan from the NIE Singapore noted in his speech that the Singapore Government when designing its policy, some 30 years ago, based its strategy on building strong fundamentals before introducing flexibility, choice and diversity.

In 2010, the DOE of SA introduced the CAPS Curriculum and “kicked OBE approach out of the door”…some may argue, 16 years too late.

ORT SA Math Programme incorporates three critical factors that contribute to its success as shown in learners’ performance and teachers increased competence, confidence and motivation:

1. The use of high quality materials (the Singapore Math books published by Marshall and Cavendish). These materials have the MCK (Math
Content Knowledge) and MPCK (Math Pedagogical Content Knowledge) both embedded in them. And its structure and focus approach compensate a lack of strong Curriculum.

2.  Intensive teachers training, coaching and on-site support to upgrade teachers’ skills and knowledge and support them in implementation.

3. Assessment of learners and teachers to measure impact of project on their performance and bridge the gaps where necessary.

Lessons learnt

  • ORT’s model of high quality books, PD and Assessment proves to improve teaching and learning of Math in township schools in SA
  • Phase Approach (Starting from Grade 1) is recommended to introduce the Singapore methodologies progressively and build strong foundations
  • Show case success via functions, awards ceremonies, visits to schools. These show cases are a source of motivation and pride to teachers and schools
  • Importance of partnerships with DOE, Corporates, other NGOs all sharing the same aims and goals

Challenges

  • Parents’ involvement is a big challenge. Not only in encouraging and supporting children’s work and instill in them the values in education, but also  ensuring the safety of the school
  • Language – not enough research has been conducted to evaluate the implications of using English written textbooks in the Foundation Phase level, when policy requires the use of home language (there are 11 official languages in SA)
  • Minimal influence on policy and reforms in education. (accountability, compensation of teachers, shared data with DOE on pupils assessment)

Prezi

Reflections from Education Week SA July 2011

Education Week, a conference held at the Sandton Convention Centre recently, convened some important stakeholders in education, raising concerns regards the state of education in South Africa and sharing possible solutions and case studies. The state of education in SA has been exposed over the media and in academic articles, so the issues that arose in both morning panels on the 7th and 8th of July, were not new discoveries to most delegates. Both Ministries for Basic Education and Higher Education are openly disclosing information and strategies to the problem. For example, statistic shown by Mabizela Nathledi, who represented the Minister of Higher Education, revealed the numbers behind what he called the “Ticking Time Bomb”. Numbers of unemployed, not in education and not severely disabled at the 18-24 age cohort. This staggering statistic shows 2.8M unemployed between the age of 18-24, out of which about 2M – TWO MILLION have less than Grade 12 qualification (0.5M Primary education and less, 0.5M less than Grade 10, 1M less than Grade 12). In South Africa where the rate of unemployment is min 28% this statistic is of huge concern (compared to Tunisia where unemployment rate is 5%). Mazibela noted that the SA economy requires a pool of artisans and technicians as well as academic, teaching staff and researchers. Another concern raised is that the quality of students seems to be going down. He also added that poor education in primary level is the concern of DHE as well since the need to strengthen the basics; Math, Science and Literacy are fundamentals when getting to higher education.

I  enjoyed Brian O’Connell’s talk that conveyed some hope by mentioning that we will succeed as we did before. The 2005 Curriculum was wrong, but it’s not the end of it, since early civilisation, we have tried to make sense of things but we’re not always right. The Aztec, ethic group in central Mexico who sacrificed humans is an example that civilisation don’t always get it right first time. Lets’ just hope that it won’t take too long for our country to get it right.

Using Gapminder – world map, scaled by different variables of education, Brian demonstrated the huge challenges SA faces. When scaled by number of patents, tertiary enrolment and books borrowed – you can hardly see Africa on the World map, but when it comes to TB, Malaria and HIV/AIDS, Africa seems to be the biggest continent in the world. Brian O’Connell presented benchmarking and TIMSS results that demonstrates the poor performance of our learners.

Brian’s outreach to SADTU regarding this challenge in education is an important call for the shift needed in education achievement. I strongly believe that in order to succeed in our efforts to elevate the state of education – it is the call of the communities to take proactive measures to eradicate poverty and hunger that impacts our learners achieve better.

Credit: Zapiro