Kids Maths doesn’t add up

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The news item that greeted me on the radio this morning dealt with Otago University’s latest National Education Monitoring Project reported to reveal a marked decline in pupils’ knowledge of basic number facts and their ability to correctly answer simple maths problems, particularly at Year 4 (eight and nine-year-olds).

The same report contained encouraging statistics, with improvements showing for pupils in more complex maths tasks such as algebra, logic and statistics, and both Year 4 and Year 8 pupils rated mathematics as one of their three favourite subject. Despite this, it is interesting to note how the negative aspect of the item grabbed the headlines! Frankly – when I think of my own kids who are are still at school I’d be delighted to know that (a) they were enjoying maths and (b) they were showing improvement in the more complex areas.

Seems we’re not alone in this alarmist response to reports on mathematics teaching and learning. Just yesterday I read a fascinating item from eSchool News on How schools are using software to add to students’ understanding of mathematics. It is a special feature, written in response to the release last December of the 2003 PISA results. These revealed that U.S. students performed lower on average than their counterparts in the participating countries in both math literacy and problem solving.

The eSchool News report begins with:

Despite the disappointing results on a national scale, there are many schools where students are learning math in the context of real-world situations and succeeding. And technology is playing a role in this success in a number of locations.

…and goes on to describe a number of initiatives in the US where ICT is being used to support the teaching of mathematics, which includes the use of mobile technologies to support ‘just-in-time’ learning, math in the context of music, problem solving and teacher professional development.

Interestingly, all of these examples focus on the more complex areas of maths teaching and learning. Only one of the brand-new programs they describe focuses specifically on helping struggling students develop fluency in basic math facts such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division (basic facts).

It’s an encouraging read – particularly as ICT in Maths has for so long been associated with the “drill and kill” sorts of software that focuses solely on basic facts and repetitive practice etc – perhaps it would be useful to compile a list of NZ-basd examples?

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