Pupils missing out on digital innovations in maths education due to lack of support for teachers

05 September 2017

New digital technologies could be the key to improving pupils’ maths outcomes provided teachers have access to training and support in their use, according to new research from UCL.

In a two-year project funded by the Nuffield Foundation, a sample of schools were provided with a tried-and–tested mathematics curriculum embedding dynamic maths technology (DMT) covering part of KS3 and the teachers offered professional training.  The project identifies a number of effective classroom practices and points to the conditions necessary for these to happen.

The project involved over 200 teachers from 42 schools across London and reported that initially, project teachers were not using the dynamic mathematic technologies (DMT) available to them because they felt they lacked training, knowledge and confidence. The report showed that despite adequate provision and web access, 37% of teachers had never used DMT in their lessons, with 45% using it occasionally, and only 9% using it regularly.

The researchers, based at the UCL Institute of Education’s Knowledge Lab, said that DMT gives teachers the power to open up maths to Key Stage 3 pupils in both geometry and algebra, and can be exploited effectively to present practical activities for pupils in realistic contexts, for example, resizing images for a digital magazine or understanding the speed at which a digital game character moves. But this will not happen automatically.

“Teachers use technology in other areas of their lives – so why don’t they use it in maths teaching? It’s not an issue with the children, who are of course confident using devices such as iPads, but due to a lack of adequate support for teachers, they are not making the most of these powerful tools for mathematics,” said co-author Professor Dame Celia Hoyles.

“DMT enables teachers and pupils to work together to paint a picture of patterns, shapes and structures they would not otherwise see, or build and recount the joy in describing what was previously hidden. These technologies help to illustrate solutions to mathematical problems, but also raise new challenges.”

Following professional support, teachers were much more confident in trying new teaching approaches that enabled them to really exploit the DMT with their pupils. What’s more, the DMT helped teachers to explain difficult mathematical ideas to pupils by offering a stimulating visual environment that captured pupils’ interest and intrigue and encouraged them to use precise mathematical language.

Co-author, Dr Alison Clark-Wilson added: “We have known for some time that digital technologies are effective at improving engagement with maths among pupils. However, successfully integrating this kind of technology requires teachers to develop their own fluency with it, to find new ways of communicating the curriculum and to support pupil’s technological experiences.”

Cheryl Lloyd, Programme Head at the Nuffield Foundation said: “This project suggests that tailored professional development is essential to teachers incorporating dynamic mathematic technologies in their teaching. Like the researchers, the Nuffield Foundation would like to see the use of digital technologies incorporated into initial training routes with further support provided for ongoing professional development. But we also know that in practice the severe shortage of maths teachers may make it difficult for them to access that professional development.”