Maths - Then and now

18th January 2013 at 00:00
Despite great leaps forward, some things never change

How long have I taught at my present college? Twenty years. Sometimes I, as Jonny Now, look back to the teacher I was, Jonny Then, and have an imaginary conversation.

"So, Jonny Now, what can you tell me about maths teaching in 2013? It's pretty hard to imagine from back here. What's the big change?"

"That question, Jonny Then, is stunningly easy to answer. It's the advent of the computer."

"We've got computers - some RM Nimbus machines that we run Logo on."

"Ah, but we now have computers in every room, all connected via a network. We still have the wonders of Logo, but lots of other programs too, for graphing, for spreadsheets, for games and for creating resources."

"Can people use them to communicate with each other?"

"We have something called 'email'. Anyone can send a message to anyone else over the network, almost instantly."

"That must save a lot of time."

"Er... sometimes it does but sometimes it doesn't."

"What else have computers made possible?"

"My whiteboard has become computerised, or, as we say, 'interactive'. You can project anything that your computer screen can show. I can refer back to earlier slides in the lesson and I can send out the lesson to pupils afterwards. No more cleaning the board - and forget that overhead projector."

"Welcome indeed. What happens if the computer goes wrong?"

"That does tend to be a bit of a disaster."

"Is there anything else I need to know, Jonny Now?"

"Let me show you the internet. These are what we call 'websites'. They offer resources, videos, interaction with other teachers - an endless world of possibilities for teaching."

"But surely these sites must be very expensive to join?"

"Most, including some of the best, are completely free."

"It is hard to believe that mankind can be that generous."

"It's true. No longer do your pupils need to lug around heavy textbooks. Here's a maths site called Wolfram Alpha ( You just put in your question and back comes the answer."

"Will it integrate for you? I'll bet it can't do the integral of e[s49]x."

"Back it comes with 2e[s49]x ([s49]x - 1) + c. Pretty damn quickly."

"What must all this mean for exams? Surely you are free with the help of this ICT to ask some wonderfully imaginative questions. Liberated from the drudgery of doing all that calculation by hand that computers are so good at, pupils could tackle questions about modelling, investigating, conjecturing, finding counter-examples. Please, Jonny Now, show me the exam papers of the future. I want to be inspired."

"Er... well, Jonny Then, I should say that computers - proper computers - are not allowed in most exams. As for exam papers, you could have a look at this."

"But, oh no... Isn't this exactly the same as what we do?"

Jonny Griffiths teaches maths at a sixth-form college. With thanks to Conrad Wolfram (bit.lyazCYie)

What else?

Help pupils to prepare for their maths exams with the TES GCSE revision collection.


Ben Cooper's interactive PowerPoint contains questions for every lesson of the year.


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