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Steps to coordinate and strengthen school maths and ICT

John Gough
John Gough has been a teacher-educator for many years, specialising in mathematics education. He is based at the Centre for Studies in Mathematics, Science and Environmental Education, Deakin University.

Our professional working lives, our methods of work, and the world around us have all been, and are still being, radically challenged by Information and Communication Technology. Often our strategies for the use of ICT in teaching are hurried and improvised. We should stop and consider our present situation in terms of school teaching in general, and mathematics teaching in particular. The following notes and suggestions may be helpful.

Conduct an audit

Conduct an audit of ICT and mathematics across the curriculum. What are the ICT skills of teachers at your school? Do they all have a desk-top computer, or laptop, for work and home? What are the ICT skills of your students? What computer-provision and Internet access do students have at school and at home? How is ICT (and ICT-related mathematics) used across other Key Learning Areas?

Potential applications of ICT at school include:

  • digital video recording, film editing and still-photography
  • CD-ROM burning facilities
  • web-site authoring software
  • mathematics processing software (also known as Computer Algebra Systems, or CAS)
  • data-logging peripherals and software
  • music composing, digital sound recording, and synthesising and audio mixing
  • graphic and animation software
  • computer programming software
  • spreadsheets
  • dynamic geometry.
Part of this audit ought to be, as a matter of urgency, a screening of students' ICT skills and experiences as they enter Year 7 (see Gough 2002) and again at the transition from Year 10 to 11.

ICT, literacy and numeracy

ICT is changing literacy and numeracy as we know it, and as we currently teach it. We must beware of the now misleading, although previously reliable, comfortable old assumptions about students, subject-matter, learning, teaching and how we work as educators. We need to re-examine our working definitions of literacy and numeracy.

By my own definition, 'numeracy' comprises most of primary school mathematics used outside the mathematics classroom. It is a collection of lower-level mathematics skills that are used widely in other subject areas and outside school in everyday life, at home, in recreation, and in ordinary, non-specialised, non-technical aspects of adult work.

Numeracy is much more than the third of the traditional 'Three Rs', which instead may be termed 'numberacy'.

Numeracy includes, as well as number sense, others aspects of mathematical knowledge and thinking, such as:

  • using number skills in applied measurement situations
  • algebraic and pattern-related thinking
  • geometric and spatial thinking
  • data-handling (statistics and graphing)
  • figuring the odds of events
  • logical analysis and argument, and mathematical communication
  • problem solving.

Teaching and learning: ICT compared to traditional approaches

Any book-type learning, which can be achieved using ICT, can also be achieved (as far as research can tell us, and for the time being), at least as well, using traditional 'chalk-and-talk' and pencil-and-paper activities, and textbook-based approaches (supported by audio and video resources). A student can still learn multiplication tables just as effectively by oral chanting and number investigations as by playing numerical Space-Invader-type computer-games.There is no research evidence as yet to show that students learn better using ICT.

Many valuable non-book-type subjects cannot be taught well, either through books or through ICT approaches. These subjects include live-action, real-time, practical, physical performance, such as cooking, dancing, singing and playing music, drama, trades (such as wood and metal work) and conversational skills.

ICT at school and at home

A do-nothing or do-little approach will not avoid the impact of ICT on students and their school experience. If teachers don't use ICT in classrooms, then their students, at home, will learn ICT skills, anyway. In this case, as usual, they will learn it differently from the way it might have been tackled at school.

Students' learning of ICT at home will be informal, intuitive, improvisatory, ad hoc, spontaneous, idiosyncratic, invented, unstructured - rather different from the way a teacher might want it to be. Students' learning will also be personally confident, robust, and flexible. However, the students will approach any non-ICT-based school learning with a mindset focused on ICT-at-home experiences. For example, project-work assigned for library research may be subverted as students delay any project until they can go home and log on to the Internet.

Paper-based resources, and off-screen reading are not endangered, but are likely to be seriously undervalued by students who, naturally, have limited paper-based study resources at home, but can access the global online resources of the Internet.

Impact of ICT on student-teacher relations

Teaching itself, as a face-to-face, teacher-to-class, real-life, oral and hand-written activity, is being challenged by the increasing need to use ICT media, such as PowerPoint slideshow presentations, word-processing, computer graphics, web-page authoring tools, email and interactive websites.

A necessary addition to teachers' availability for after-class, person-to-person, live-time consultation is the need to read and reply to student e-mails asking for help. Educational managers, who do not themselves need to cope with daily floods of emails, are likely to underestimate the time-demand involved in online teaching.

The lessons from earlier technological innovations

The new silicon and internet-based ICT is not the first new technology to challenge otherwise traditional school practices. We have previously encountered technology such as faxes, hand-held arithmetic calculators, scientific calculators, video cameras and recorders, and photocopiers.

We should reflect, carefully, critically and constructively, on how any of these earlier technologies altered previous practices (for example, we discarded the Fordigraph and Roneo machines; we discarded books of logarithm and trigonometry tables, and slide-rules). We should aim to learn what we can from these earlier stages of the school-meets-technology evolution, as we struggle to cope with the potential impacts of ICT.

This article was originally published in
Vinculum in 2003.

References and Further Reading

Brabazon, T. (2002). Digital Hemlock: Internet Education and the Poisoning of Teaching. University of New South Wales Press, Sydney.
Downes, T (2002). University of Western Sydney, Australia, 'Blending play, practice and performance: children's use of the computer at home', Journal Of Educational Enquiry, Volume 3, Issue 2, November 2002, pp. 21-34, surveying children's playful and purposeful use of computers as tools.
Gough, J. (2000a). 'Learning Technologies'' 'Convergent Technologies'' What Do These Mean', Education and Information Technologies, vol. 5, no. 2, pp 133-142.
Gough, J. (2000b). Review: Mary Ainley, Valerie Bourke, Robert Chatfield, Kylie Hillman, Ian Watkins (2000). Computers, Laptops and Tools: ACER Research Monograph no. 56, Australian Council for Educational Research, Camberwell. Vinculum, vol. 37, no. 4, pp. 17-22.
Gough, J. (2002). Primary schooling in mathematics and information & communication technology: Are we doing enough? In C. Vale, J, Roumeliotis, & J. Horwood (Eds) Valuing Mathematics in Society, Mathematical Association of Victoria, Brunswick, 2002, pp. 65-79.
Gough, J. (2003). School mathematics and ICT: Are we doing enough? ' The Talk. Vinculum vol. 40, no. 3, pp. 18-23.
Papert, S. (1980). Mindstorms. Sussex, Brighton: Harvester Press/Basic Books.

Key Learning Areas


Subject Headings

Computer-based training
Computers in society
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Mathematics teaching
School equipment