Active Use of Digital Technologies in Mathematical Problem Solving

Active Use of Digital Technologies in Mathematical Problem Solving

Duncan Symons (The University of Melbourne, Australia) and Robyn Pierce (The University of Melbourne, Australia)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 21
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7832-1.ch011
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The need for students to engage in critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity when utilizing digital technologies is well established given the current push to prepare our students for future work expectations, often referred to as Industry 4.0. In this chapter, 54 Grade 5 students participated in online collaborative mathematical problem solving over a period of 9 weeks. Text-based discussion and software derived artefacts were investigated in an effort to understand how this approach aligns with these expectations. An examination of the frequency/density of technical mathematical vocabulary use and identified examples, Talk Types is used as a means to understand how often students within the online environment are likely to be engaged in work that might be considered productive. The findings of this study suggest that utilizing online synchronous and asynchronous collaborative learning platforms for the purposes of mathematical problem solving is a small but important approach to preparing students for the era of Industry 4.0.
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Developments in technology and in particular “intelligent” technology are transforming the way we will live. This is why the current Australian mathematics curriculum mandates that technology be utilised to support students to “investigate, create and communicate mathematical ideas and concepts” (ACARA, 2014). However, research to date has found that use of digital technologies in Australian primary mathematics classrooms is often superficial and focusses on the lower-order drilling of algorithms and basic facts (Day, 2013). These are skills that are already commonly assigned to technology for speed and accuracy. To prepare our students for the automated, networked and data driven nature of future work expectations, often referred to as “Industry 4.0”, students need to move beyond algorithmic skills and engage in critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity (Griffin, McGaw, & Care, 2012) when utilising digital technologies. Whilst there are some recent efforts towards describing the conditions needed in education to prepare students for this future (see for example, Loveder (2017); Matthews, Garratt, and Macdonald (2018); Murphy and Irwin (2018) and Wanyama, Singh, and Centea (2018)) the lack of alignment between research-based evidence and the written and enacted curriculum suggests uncertainty about the pedagogical use of technology within primary mathematics now and moving into the future.

The aim of the study discussed in this chapter was to develop and trial an approach to the integration of digital technologies within the primary mathematics classroom that actively promotes the Australian Curriculum cross curricular priorities of Critical and Creative Thinking. For this purpose, a nine-week teaching and learning intervention was planned. This approach involved students in a face-to-face class followed by a week when their “homework” was to collaboratively, in small online groups, solve open, context based, mathematical problems. The research also aimed to investigate the opportunities this alternative use of technology in primary mathematics might present for researchers, teachers and students. If we can guide young students in richer and deeper engagement with technologies, we may offer greater preparation for the new and in part unanticipated consequences of Industry 4.0. It is expected that the outcomes of this project may provide evidence-based advice and examples for teachers who do not feel confident to use technology within the mathematics classroom for uses other than drill and practice. With these aims in mind the following research question was investigated:

  • How does student engagement with online mathematical problem solving align with the Australian Curriculum priority of Critical and Creative Thinking?

This chapter draws on work initially disseminated in Jazby and Symons (2015); Symons (2017) and Symons and Pierce (2015). We will first provide some discussion of the importance that the Australian Curriculum places on critical thinking. Following this, a framework developed by Perkins and Murphy (2006) will be used to explore whether different aspects of critical thinking were evident in student online discussion. Following use of this tool, student discussion is reanalysed through the lens of ‘Talk Types’ (Mercer & Wegerif, 1999) with the aim of showing that where Exploratory talk was evident, student critical thinking also occurred. It is hypothesised that critical thinking may be evident through the presence of a greater density of specific technical mathematical vocabulary use in identified examples of Exploratory talk.


Literature Review

Technology integration in primary level mathematics, commonly, at best emphasizes fluency rather than understanding, reasoning and problem solving (BECTA, 2004; Day, 2013; Wachira & Keengwe, 2011). At worst, when not carefully monitored, it is simply an exercise in keeping students busy with little emphasis on mathematical concept development. This approach to technology integration is at odds with the development of the 21st century skills students will require to prosper in the era of Industry 4.0.

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