Promoting learning in mathematics using ICTs
Ellen Hicks, Memorial University of Newfoundland
Student engagement is an issue in mathematics classrooms because many students do not like the subject and they find it difficult to learn (Sedig, 2008). In a study of third grade students, Kiger, Herro, and Prunty (2012) observed that math lessons were often structured in a teacher-led lecture-style method, followed by small group and then individual remediation. Sedig (2008) found that students’ negative attitudes towards mathematics were a result of their experiences in the classroom and how the lessons were conducted. A study of students who were considered at-risk in mathematics, argued that classes "offered few opportunities for active, engaging learning or activities that students experienced as being relevant" (Kajander, Zuke, & Walton, 2008, p. 1069). These researchers also reported that disengagement (observed through poor attention spans, completion of assignments, and attendance) was a result of teachers' lack of ability to respond to students' misconceptions and varying ability levels with mathematics. Students in this study reported that they were frustrated with mathematics and could not "see the point of the topics being studied” (p.1059).
Liu (2013) determined that elementary schools are dependent on textbooks for mathematics instruction. Liu identified several problems with existing mathematics textbooks: (a) general presentation of concepts with little consideration for students’ experiences and background (b) written above average reading levels, (c) information and the relationships between concepts are poorly structured. Pareto, Haake, Lindström, Sjödén, and Gulz (2012) concluded that elementary students' understanding of base-ten concepts was also a barrier to achievement and that traditional instruction alone was not sufficient to develop these concepts. Early negative experiences with mathematics instruction will often shape students’ beliefs and feelings about the subject (Sedig, 2008). Furthermore, these beliefs and feelings that students develop about mathematics are correlated to their achievement levels (Anderson, Rogers, Klinger, Ungerleider, Glickman, & Anderson, 2006).
Role of ICTs
The current generation of students has grown up surrounded by technology and preferring video learning and games in comparison to traditional classroom instruction (Edwards, Rule & Boody, 2013). Digital math games can provide an alternative to traditional instructional methods (Liu, 2013). Kim and Chang (2010) reported that computer games are “a potential way to improve students’ performance” (p. 226). Katmada, Mavridis, and Tsiatsos (2014) designed and researched a mathematics game that could act as a “complementary learning tool” (p. 231). They determined that digital game-based learning was appealing to students and that the students felt computer games improved both their achievement and motivation in mathematics.
High school students reported that math games “were effective because they (a) combined learning and fun, (b) offered mathematics in adventurous and exploratory context, and (c) challenged students to learn Mathematics” (Kebritchi, Hirumi, & Bai, 2010, p. 436). Sixth grade students described an adaptable mathematics game as easy, entertaining and that it provided an “innovative approach to the learning process” (Katmanda et al., 2014, p. 238).
High school teachers recounted that mathematics computer games decreased math phobia and improved on-task behavior (Kebritchi et al., 2010). These same teachers expressed that digital games offered simulated real life experiences and provided motivation for students to solve problems in order to make progress within the game. Researchers observed grade four and five students using drill and practice computer games in a summer camp program to be more on task and committed to learning (Ke, 2008). This study also posited that computer math games positively enhanced student’s attitudes towards mathematics. As well, video evidence of grade three students in a multimedia mathematics intervention supported the high engagement level and attentive behavior of students (Liu, 2013).
Kebritchi et al. (2010) concluded that collaborative math games were even more attractive than competitive games. Participants in their study preferred multiplayer options over single player environments. In one comparative study of fifth graders, researchers determined that cooperative digital games enhanced positive attitudes towards math more than competitive games (Ke & Grabowski, 207). This study also reported that socio-economically disadvantaged students’ attitudes towards mathematics were significantly improved through cooperative math computer games.
Following a five week study of an instructional computer game, Kebritchi et al. (2010) revealed significant achievement by Pre-Algebra and Algebra students on the district math exam. Another study of a game designed to teach transformational geometry to sixth graders specified that digital games improved achievement (Sedig, 2008). In addition, two grade four classrooms increased achievement after utilizing interactive tabletops (a Computer Supported Collaborative Learning device) with digital math games (Jackson, Brummel, Pollet, & Greer, 2013). Ke and Grabowski (2007) suggested in their study comparing cooperative and competitive digital math games that cooperative digital games promoted mathematical learning both “cognitively and affectively” (p. 257).
Hrastinski, Edman, Andersson, Kawnine and Soames (2014) found that mathematics in the world of digital technologies presented unique challenges such as recording expressions and illustrating explanations and symbols particularly with a keyboard and mouse. However, students could utilize tablets, digital pens and/or video technology to illustrate and explain their mathematical ideas.
In one case, the design of the math digital game became an obstacle in that the game did not adapt to student ability level (Ke, 2008). As a result, Ke (2008) concluded that students made random guesses at answers and displayed a lack of thoughtful reflection. Ke recommended that teachers match challenges in digital games to a student’s ability level. In addition, he recommended that games be designed using situated learning activities with characters in stories, that the difficulty level be “pleasantly challenging” (p. 1619) for students, and that reflections be scaffolded.
Eid (2005) reported that the availability of computers was a limitation in his study of online problem solving. That limitation coupled with the novelty of technology can become a distraction in the classroom when offered in limited amounts and to only small groups of students at a time (Jackson et al., 2013). Jackson et al. (2013) recommended that technology such as the interactive table top remain in classrooms so that students have frequent access and will become “acclimatized to it” (p. 327). Sharing of technology and the Bring Your Own Device model may decrease costs and increase student accessibility to technology (Kiger et al., 2012).
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