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19th January 2001 at 00:00
Make sure your maths department does not miss out on ICT resourcing, urges David Wright

Teachers are still commenting, at conferences and training sessions, that mathematics is missing out in the allocation of ICT resources. The British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta) has produced a useful checklist, which teachers can use to audit the range of mathematical experiences to which pupils are entitled through the use of ICT. It could also be used to support an application for ICT resources from headteachers or ICT co-ordinators who think that maths can still be taught solely with a piece of chalk and a loud voice. "A Pupil's Entitlement to ICT" lists the strengths of ICT for teaching maths as:

* Learning from feedback. The computer can provide fast and reliable feedback that is non-judgmental and is impartial. Much good software offers continual feedback during activities, providing pupils with insight and encouraging explanation. Pupils can also use the simplest of calculators to solve equations through trial and improvement.

* Observing patterns. The speed of computers and calculators means pupils can produce many examples when exploring problems, supporting their observation of patterns and encouraging them to make and justify generalisations.

* Seeing connections. The computer enables formulae, tables of numbers and graphs to be readily linked. Spreadsheets, graphic calculators or graph-plotters enable pupils to switch effortlessly between these representations. Changing one representation and seeing changes in the others helps pupils to see the connections between them. An example of how these applications are converging can be found with the development of TI InterActive, from Texas Instruments. Visit www.ti.comcalcdocsinteractive for a free 'beta' test version.

* Working with dynamic images. Pupils can use computers to manipulate images dynamically, encouraging them to visualise the geometry as they generate their own mental images. "Dynamic geometry" software is becoming widely available on graphic calculators as well as "desktop" machines and offers a powerful approach to learning geometrical concepts.

Go to www.cabri.netindex-e.html to find out more about Cabri Geometre or www.keypress.comproduct_infosketchpad3.html for Geometer's sketchpad or htt:members.comFeYiLaidr_geodoctor_geo.html for the free dynamic geometry application Dr Geo.

* Exploring data. The ability to collect, analyse and interpret data is an essential key skill. Computers enable pupils to work with real data, which can be represented in a variety of ways. The data can be collected from existing data bases via the internet or by using data loggers connected to graphic calculators, and analysed readily using appropriate software. Using real data also makes a cross-curricular approach feasible. A booklet called Data-capture and modelling in mathematics and science is on-line at or in print from Becta.

* "Teaching" the computer. When pupils design an algorithm (a set of instructions) to make a computer achieve a particular result, they are compelled to express their commands unambiguously and in correct order: they make their thinking explicit as they refine their ideas. The computer or graphic calculator is an ideal medium for this work: it always does precisely what it has been told to do, it waits patiently for its commands; it has no expectations of its teacher; and is uncritical of failure.

The ICT support pages on the maths section of the Virtual Teacher Centre (VTC) run by Becta give more details. See There is now a wealth of resources and materials on the internet. For example the VTC includes case studies of schools and a conferencing area, which allows teachers to chat, share knowledge, swap ideas and put forward observations. Its Contributory Database is a fast-growing resource where teachers are sharing materials they have produced themselves.

The challenge is for teachers to enable pupils to make appropriate decisions about using technology. As with the simple calculator, pupils will need to decide whether or not a machine is helpful with a particular task. But they will also have to ask the question: "Which is the most appropriate software for the job in hand?"

David Wright is an education officer with the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency, Milburn Hill Road, Science Park, Coventry CV4 7JJ. Tel: 024 7641 6994 Fax: 024 7641 1418 E-mail: Web:

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