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Bringing Maths and Students Face to Face Online

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It was only a matter of time before an entrepreneurial mind addressed students struggle with Maths as a subject and also devised a medium that is relevant to them as ‘digital natives’ to mathematically engage and test them. Aftermath: the new maths based software has captured the imagination of students and parents alike. It has been created to encourage children to enhance their maths ability in return for time that can be spent browsing social networking sites such as Facebook. Afterall, our young students are ‘tech-savy’ and they require technology to engage them to learn. We, the ‘digital immigrants’ into their technologically conditioned minds and worlds can only imagine the challenges that the traditional classroom poses for them.

Parents can install the programme and choose which websites they want to feature maths questions on, that must be answered, before their site of choice can be accessed. Aptly titled, the ‘Aftermath’ software is suitable for children aged between 11 and 16-years-old and requires them to answer a series of multiple choice questions, with credits awarded for each question they get correct. These credits can then be used for internet time – depending on the difficulty of the maths problem completed. ‘The game adapts the standard of questions based on the student’s ability in previous tests,’ according to the software developer.

This article was published in October 2012

Why should a parent access such software for their children? There are a number of concrete reasons: it controls unlimited use of the internet; it teaches students that they are rewarded for work completed; it is relevant to their technological and cultural experience, and in essence it becomes a game to them – which is a highly creative way to get them to connect with maths. The need to succeed is connected to their need to use sites like Facebook etc. – a need, most students can’t do without fulfilling!

There is a real need to get students to connect with this often testing subject; their future success is often (not always) determined by a student’s maths ability and success rate.  The Expert Group on Future Skills needs has outlined in the past how Ireland must raise its level of mathematical attainment to ensure healthy competition with other economies. A sufficient supply of people with mathematical, science and ICT skills is essential to Ireland’s future social and economic development.

Whilst many Maths teachers continually face the daily disruptive classroom question: I don’t need Maths; it is now well known that Mathematics is important, because it is the shared foundation to many other disciplines like science and technology. It is a crucial requirement for the growth of the knowledge economy. What the teacher has to consistently tell the student is: you need Maths as an essential stepping stone into college, apprenticeships, and many places of work. Not an easy task! As outlined by the Expert Group: Mathematical skills enable people to fully participate and work in a modern society. Improving national mathematical achievement is therefore vital for students on a personal and economical level.

The government has become quite proactive themselves in this area: the new maths syllabus ‘Project Maths’ and the awarding of bonus points to those who get at least a D grade in leaving certificate honours maths. However, students are still relatively slow in taking Higher-Level Leaving Cert Mathematics. Has Project Maths worked? This year there has been a dramatic fall in the number of students failing maths in their Leaving Certificate. However 4,000 still failed maths this year, which is down by 20% on recent years, but it still means a lot of students cannot access apprenticeships or fail to get into the majority of Higher Education Courses that require Maths as an entry requirement.

The leaving certificate results in August did provide good news for advocates of the Project Maths initiative – with a significant improvement in performance at higher level. According to official figures, of the 11,000 students who took the higher level maths exam, where a record 97.7% achieved a D grade or higher, leaving a failure rate of 2.3%. This compares with 8,000 students with a failure rate of 8.6% in 2011. These figures are welcome news for the science and technological sectors who are crying out for students with the necessary skills and drive to help make Ireland a centre of excellence. However, there were a lot of students who did question the higher level maths questions and how relevant they were to the project maths course that was actually covered in class. Perhaps the government needs to address the gap that exists between what students are learning and what they are actually being tested on as part of this new Maths syllabus.

This new Maths software is probably one example of what is to come in terms of technological incentives to do Maths. Alongside completing maths questions and engaging with Maths in a medium familiar to them: Aftermath ensures that students do not have unlimited and unstructured access to the worldwide web, which can actually be more detrimental to their learning experience than beneficial.

Catriona Lowry

maths courses Ireland