CfEM blog: Making effective use of technology and data in maths teaching

Blog by Eddie Playfair, Senior Policy Manager at the Association of Colleges (AoC), for the Centres for Excellence in Maths (CfEM) programme.

The use of digital technologies refers to computing devices such as laptops, notebooks and smartphones as well as calculators. It also includes the software being used, for example, graphical and spreadsheet applications.

Technology can be used to visualise mathematical relationships, plot changes quickly and automate and speed up mathematical processes. This can help students understand underlying patterns and relationships more easily. Technology can also be used to ‘do the maths’; e.g. perform calculations or plot graphs.

Technology can be harnessed and used in creative, imaginative ways to help engage and motivate students and sustain their interest in maths. It can support access to well-designed interactive resources in and out of the classroom and support blended or flipped learning.

Technology also allows for more active student involvement in the learning process, with software packages which support the assessment of their understanding and provide rapid and formative feedback. This allows for a more personalised approach and can help build student confidence and fluency. Our evaluation of any new approach needs to include student feedback on their experiences of what they are offered.

The Centres for Excellence in Maths (CfEM) programme will be making use of the eedi cloud-based platform which offers automated formative assessment mapped to the GCSE maths specification. Diagnostic questions help to identify misconceptions, can provide real-time insights for teachers and policymakers and support students to progress independently. ‘Quizzes’ are used immediately after teaching a topic to identify misconceptions and then 3 weeks later to measure retention.

A college’s ability to collect, aggregate and analyse data about student characteristics and performance is much enhanced by technology and this can give us a very rich information base to inform our practice. However, we need to be conscious of the risks of data overload and the need to ‘see the wood for the trees’. Intelligent use of data requires careful selection and timely analysis.

The technology-focused research of the CfEM programme will focus on 3 strands:

  • The use of technologies to give students direct experience of maths which are new to them and which provide a more dynamic access to mathematical ideas ad structures. This will be explored in a few carefully chosen areas.
  • The use of technologies, for instance, using ‘flipped classroom’ approaches, to release classroom time for more social learning and development of mastery.
  • The use of technology to provide initial and continuous diagnostic data to inform formative assessment; for instance, using packages which help identify student misconceptions and address them.

Technological approaches have much to offer to support good practice in teaching GCSE maths retake students. Our aim in the project will be to ground our use of technology in excellent pedagogy and not rush to technological solutions simply for their novelty value. We also need to acknowledge the variability of teacher expertise and skill and ensure that any approaches we recommend, or resources we design, are as intuitive as possible.

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