Techno-Tools for the classroom: Mathalicious: a simplified take on mathematics
In the 2017 academic year, the CSEC mathematics examination saw only 50 per cent of the summer cohort passing the subject. At the primary level, the situation was no different.
The average score attained on the 2017 GSAT math exam was 62 per cent. The fact is, that despite the Ministry of Education's best efforts, (STEM, Math Counts, etc) the students are generally scoring low or failing in mathematics.
Despite the many reasons put forward for this general poor performance, one factor that is not given adequate focus is the approach or methods used to teach mathematics at the primary and secondary levels.
There is no denying that most Jamaican children at the early-childhood level enjoy their mathematics experience. They learn how to ascribe values to quantity, sing songs about numbers, and learn how to count. It is what happens after this stage that seems to be the challenge. It appears that for many students, mathematics is neither relevant nor fun - and our examination results prove just how much they hate the subject.
There is hope, however, thanks to modern technology, and website resources like Mathalicious, which has developed a mathematics teaching application.
Through problem-based learning approaches coupled with authentic learning and assessment strategies, Mathalicious has been able to create and share lessons that get students to apply some of the most abstract mathematical principles to some of the most concrete and everyday experiences.
The Mathalicious team has one simple mantra - 'The world is an interesting place, and mathematics class should be too'.
Creating lessons on the principle of mathematics as a tool for solving real-life problems, Mathalicious integrates computer and video technology with real-world situations to create problem sets and case studies that students can solve or resolve.
Each lesson has three components: a lesson guide with tips for addressing common student's errors, a student handout that helps to guide student learning, and a set of interactive tools that provide each student with a new perspective on mathematics in everyday life.
A teacher resource
Mathalicious is first and foremost a teacher resource. Teachers can access over 100 lessons already outfitted with lesson plans and relevant support materials. Materials can be downloaded and distributed to students in print, or they can access them in the online space.
Students would like Mathalicious because the problem sets and case studies are from real-world scenarios, and they are presented in ways that make learning fun. Imagine students using linear functions to calculate how much an individual will have to pay for outstanding speeding tickets.
Think about students using proportions to find out if taller sprinters, like Usain Bolt, have an unfair advantage. Or imagine students using the area of a circle and quadratic equations to determine what percentage of a whole pizza is only crust.
Opportunities for students to collaborate with each other on problem sets and use dialogue to problem-solve are other strong features of the software. Students are able to learn on their own by interacting with the materials and dialoguing with their peers.
While Mathalicious is not free, the approach they use and the results that they get are well worth the yearly subscription.
The problem sets and case studies can be used as they are on the site, or they can be customised according to needs. The main website can be found at http://www.mathalicious.com/. Teachers can try the product free for a period of one month.
Mathalicious is a good example of the approach we should be using to teach math in this country. It is a delicate, but effective balance between realworld experiences and the Mathematics that holds our world together.
- Gen Clacken is an educational technologist with 16 years experience in online education. She can be found at www.genclacken.com.