Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Mathematical Notation

A great question has been raised about the handling of mathematical notation when using the tools described in this blog. How do we get square root symbols, division symbols, exponents, and other mathematical symbols that are not on the computer's keyboard in a blog entry?

Mathematics teachers have many tools at their disposal--manipulatives, calculators, textbooks, etc. However, it is impossible to use any one tool ALL OF THE TIME, for every lesson. I love manipulatives, but there are just some concepts that can't be taught with them. Likewise for technology. When all you want students to do is calculate the answer to an algebra problem, why have them do it in a blog?

My argument is that technology is best used to teach and assess reasoning, communication skills, problem-solving, and the ability to make connections among mathematical concepts and to the real world. I often choose to assess these through writing. Blogs, discussion forums, and wikis are mediums meant for writing.

Why use technology at all? Aren't students already doing a fine job writing with a pencil and a sheet of paper? Sure they are. But--and I know this from experience--technology is a HUGE motivator for students. Most of my students are bored, unmotivated, and generally uninterested in most of the assignments I give--and I am definitely a non-traditional teacher. But tell them they are going to do these same assignments on a laptop and suddenly they are excited, motivated, and extremely interested.

When I want a student to define a concept, defend an answer, or make a connection to the real world, with little notation, technology is the answer for me. Not convinced? Read the about page on my Web site.


Anonymous said...

I guess I'm confused since you seem to be saying two different things here. 1) if you want notation why use a blog and 2) students are motivated by technology. I am interested because I work in *distance* education, and while we can have students email and fax work there is a real time delay in that method that we are trying to get around.

Since my background is in Creative Writing and Philosophy, I agree with the need to have students writing and doing synthetic and reflective work. But at some point we do need students working problems and at higher levels doing problems that demand symbols, and the lack of support in a web environment for doing so has been very frustrating.

Our distance students want to see-- in as near real-time as possible-- how a problem is being worked, the mis-steps and corrections along the way, etc. They want to do work online and hear back soon, not wait for postal mail or be asked to use scanners and digital cameras they don't have...

Anonymous said...

For instance, you write "Another option for writing in the mathematics classroom is to give students a problem to solve in the journal or learning log. Have them solve the problem in numbers and symbols and then explain the reasoning in words. This is a great form of assessment."

Any insight on handling the symbols in this example?