The Need to Bring Math Education into the Digital Age

We live in a world in which it seems that the only constant is change. For primary teachers, this poses a particular challenge as they are kept so busy planning, teaching, assessing and reporting, not to mention all their pastoral, supervisory, extra-curricula and committee roles.

As a result, they struggle to keep abreast of changes brought about by the digital age we’re living in, let alone adapt to and implement them.

So it is understandable that though mathematics curricula have reached a stage where incorporating a DLP (Digital Learning Platform) is an absolute necessity, teachers may struggle to make the required changes to their pedagogical practice.


The Introduction of Calculators

This same issue - incorporating necessary change - was debated 40 years ago with the widespread introduction of calculators into math classes. Many teachers believed at the time (and some still believe) that students using calculators made them lazy.

‘Don’t make them dependent on technology’, they would argue. ‘Basic rules
and concepts never change. One plus one will always equal two, so all we need
do is teach them the basics that we’ve been teaching for a hundred years.’

These teachers didn’t see the big picture. Students needed to learn to use this technology because they wouldn’t be able to operate successfully in their future daily lives without it. The world is moving on, and students must move with it.

Students who aren’t able to use a calculator operate like woodcutters using axes while others use chainsaws.

In the 1980s a common comment was, ‘You won’t walk about carrying a calculator all your life!’ - Nowadays, no teacher would ever say this. Most of us do carry a calculator with us nearly everywhere we go, along with every other smart app on our mobile phones.

This is just one small example of how we live in a very different world from that of the 20th Century, and how advances in technology have changed how often we do math and the math we do.

Just as calculators required a fundamental change to teaching math, there is a strong argument to incorporate a DLP into today’s classrooms which are filled with digital natives to whose lives technology is central. They embrace technology and expect to be entertained by it. There is an increasing expectation that their instruction will be differentiated, providing them a personal learning pathway.

What Kind of DLP Should We Be Using?

Essentially there are two types.The first presents exercises from out-of-date worksheets and textbooks that reflect an outmoded pedagogy from the early 20th century - the only thing ‘modern’ about them is that they have been put into a digital format.

These resources sugar-coat dry, closed-question activities with gimmicky frills, teaching only factual recall and procedural knowledge.

The better alternatives use realistic, contextualized problems to not only engage students, but to support them in bridging the gap from concrete representations to abstract, symbolic manipulation.

These DLPs are pedagogically sound tools for learning because they present math in life-like contexts, use everyday language, and provide visual models and digital manipulatives to foster conceptual understanding. They focus on not just memorization but aim to develop problem-solving skills, logical reasoning and the ability to think and communicate mathematically.

Life After School

Today’s digital devices can perform calculations far more quickly and efficiently than any human, but these devices lack the ability to do things that humans can, such as:

  • Solve problems
  • Reason logically
  • Think mathematically.

The right kind of DLP will emphasize the development of these skills over the drilling of facts, rules and procedures.

Teachers are juggling so many things and not necessarily receiving sufficient professional development on contemporary mathematics curriculum and pedagogy. Subsequently, when they select a DLP to support their teaching, they often just choose to use one they are comfortable and familiar with. They don’t necessarily recognize the shortcomings it may have.

So, when choosing a DLP for your school ask…

  1. Will this DLP engage and excite our students, or just digitalize worksheets and textbooks?
  2. Will this DLP focus our students on memorizing facts, rules and procedures, or on developing their ability to problem solve, reason logically and think mathematically?
  3. Will this DLP help prepare our students for their future, or our past?


Read more Using Games to Transform K-5 Mathematics Education