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'Why Moocs could have the answer to the UK's maths challenge'

As the final two parts of Citizen Maths are launched, project director Seb Schmoller and John Rees, principal of Calderdale College, explain why the Mooc could help tackle underachievement in the subject

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As the final two parts of Citizen Maths are launched, project director Seb Schmoller and John Rees, principal of Calderdale College, explain why the Mooc could help tackle underachievement in the subject

Britain faces a major maths challenge. The challenge involves a stock of people and a flow of learners.   First, the stock. About 10 million adults in Britain have gone through the education system without gaining confidence in maths at level 2, suggests the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) 2013 Survey of Adult Skills. This systemic lack of maths fluency in the adult population holds back people and their employers.   Secondly, the flow. Colleges and other learning providers are faced with a large number of level 2 maths learners, with tight funding, and with a shortage of suitably qualified and experienced maths teachers.   Citizen Maths is a free open online level 2 maths course for people who want to improve their grasp of maths.  We’ve been developing Citizen Maths over the last two years, with funding from the Ufi Charitable Trust, working with the UCL Institute of Education, and OCR, and with advice from the Google Course Builder team.     We have designed Citizen Maths using the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) 2015 Mathematics Framework, which defines the mathematical literacy assessed in Pisa.   We chose the Pisa framework partly because of its international reach, and partly because it has been based on the view that many situations in life require some level of understanding of mathematics. We therefore believe that someone who has learned maths through Citizen Maths will have gained economically and socially valuable skills in mathematics.

Covering powerful ideas   We have just launched the final two parts of the course. These parts, which cover pattern and measurement, are added to existing parts on proportion, representation and uncertainty.   Each part of the course covers one powerful idea in maths. Each has been designed to take between five and 10 hours to complete. Each shows the idea in action in several different contexts. For example, “uncertainty” involves the following situations:

● making decisions — value of insurance, risk comparisons ● judging — the meaning of cancer screening results ● gaming — appreciating odds in roulette, dice, horse-racing ● modelling — the uncertain prediction of the weather   The powerful ideas and the situations in which they are shown in action have been selected in consultation with maths teachers, and with organisations familiar with the learning needs of adults.   Learning about each idea is supported with a mix of short video tutorials and with practical exercises, and quizzes.   The video tutorials are by experienced maths tutors Paula Philpott, from South Eastern Regional College in Northern Ireland, and Noel-Ann Bradshaw, from the University of Greenwich.   The practical exercises use a range of approaches including tools, like spreadsheets, purpose-built apps that enable learners actively to experiment with the maths (there is even some coding in Scratch, an educational programming language), and calculator tasks. 


Citizen Maths is but a small contribution to tackling the twin challenge Britain faces. To find out more about the course, visit Citizen Maths.

John Rees is principal and CEO of Calderdale College. Seb Schmoller is Citizen Maths’ project director


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