My last post focused on the state of apps related to Numeracy education and concluded that the iPad has a fair way to go in how it is being utilized to develop number skills through the current crop of Maths applications. On the whole, there are too many apps focused on rote learning and simple number facts and equations. Having said that, I actually believe the iPad has much to offer teachers and students in Mathematics. However, don’t go looking for the apps in the Education section of the App Store.
I’ve always been a big proponent of making Maths real in the classroom. Yes, every teacher out there wants to make Maths interesting and relevant for their students but sometimes this just comes in the form of “Real life Maths” textbook problems. The danger of Apple’s foray into textbooks on iPads is that we will continue to get the traditional textbook experience with the bells and whistles of interactivity and ‘magic tablet dust.’ The good news from my perspective is that the iPad already is ready to replace textbooks and make Maths an engaging real world experience. What it takes of course, as I have been pushing in this blog since its inception, is quality teaching practice coupled with great, easily accessible technology. And it comes not from Maths apps but the already available, successful apps across all walks of life in the App Store.
Whether you choose Explain Everything, ShowMe, Educreations or ScreenChomp (depending on price, features or usability), using these apps to record children’s learning is a killer feature of the iPad for me. Yes, we can sit them in front of Khan Academy or YouTube and get them to watch someone else teach them how to do Maths but any good educator knows that students learn more by participating in the teaching and learning process rather than being passive receptors of information. With these apps, children can record visually and with audio the strategies they use to solve equations, real problems, geometric tasks, statistics, virtually any Maths task and share with others in the classroom.
If you are lucky enough to have access to an AppleTV and a full set of iPads, the whole class can switch from one student’s iPad screen to another to participate in an engaging real time discussion without waiting for their turn on the interactive whiteboard. Their recordings can be saved and posted to blogs or other online options to share with outside audiences, with possibilities of feedback or collaboration.
This kind of use of the iPad would do far more for developing deep understanding and granting access to authentic assessment than any textbook. It would also encourage the less confident students to share their knowledge without getting up in front of the class. You could just watch their recordings and comment later.
Doodle Buddy is a popular app already being used by many students for a variety of reasons. It has many possibilities in the Maths Classroom. Younger students can create pictographs by using the stamp tools to record their survey results. It can then be used to develop more “mathematical” visual representations by drawing around those pictures to make column graphs. The app comes with special backgrounds, one of which is a dot grid. Students could use this to draw paths following directions, create shapes and angles and use it to create line graphs as well.
A more complex drawing app is iDraw. This application can be used for shape exploration using its tools to create transformations through rotations, reflections and resizing. Scale concepts can be introduced and area and perimeter explored through drawing plans of houses, gardens, playgrounds and the like.
Further engagement could take place through a specific house design app called Home Design HD, which not only gives you a wide range of tools for precision drawing and measuring of house plans but also converts the plans into 3D models.
With the Skitch app, students can import pictures then use annotation tools to divide them into grids to make arrays, plot a path on a map screenshot, annotate graphs, draw angles on an image then measure with a real protractor. They can use this for real trigonometry problems instead of detached examples from textbooks.
Children can become engaged in sharing their Maths understanding by making learning videos with iMovie, recording entire lessons with concrete materials as support for presenting what they have learnt.
iMotion HD is a time lapse/stop motion animation app that could be used to record shape transformations made with real materials then played back and slowed down to discuss the transformations as they happen. Time lapse photography with this app could be used to record experiments related to measurement and time relationships then played back at different speeds to explore how long it took for ice to melt, for food to cook or a snail to travel over a certain distance. Possibilities are endless for authentic learning here.
Imagine exploring average speeds by looking over the results of a car trip, run or walk recorded with an app like MotionX GPS. The app can present its findings in graphs showing distances, elevations, speeds and maps (with wifi). By looking at the break up of the distances travelled and the time taken, engaging authentic discussions can take place about what caused the fluctuations in times taken to travel certain distances, differences in elevations and how that affected the journey, all real life applications of Maths. At a simpler level pedometer apps can be used just to track distances and times on shorter walks around the school to support earlier estimations of distances/lengths
Other Measuring Apps
The Theodolite app mimics the function of a real theodolite and can be used for real angle readings to determine the height or distance away from an object. Just like my earlier Skitch example, this could be use for practical applications for geometry and trigonometry that written problems in a textbook can’t compete with.
Clinometer, Gigantic Compass, Multi Protractor and the Best Ruler are tools that can replace traditional tools for measuring angles, directions and lengths while also providing quick reference to real numbers that can be used for relevant equations. Clock Pro HD provides a range of time recording tools that can be used for many tasks in a creative Maths environment. There are a range of conversion apps that can be used to support work in measurement tasks.
Wolfram Alpha is a workhorse app (Google on steroids) that can do just about everything in Mathematics information that will support all areas of Maths. Just read the description on the store to find out more. Here’s a detailed review from YouTube
Use physics based games like Angry Birds (does anyone need a link for this!?!), Cat Physics, PocketTanks and Super Stickman Golf to explore the use of angles then apply them to the creation of real life models. YouTube already has examples of Angry Birds Physics lessons here. The beauty of Cat Physics is that it shows the path after completing each level so you can actually measure the angle you used and then try out the real model you build. Pocket Tanks actually gives you the angle you are using. Playing these games can inspire students to test out other real applications for angles like golf club design, ramps, pinball machines, mini golf courses and so on.
Yahtzee, Monopoly and Solitaire games all have great possibilities for developing number concepts. There are also dedicated dice and decision making apps like DiceBag, Wheel of Chance and Undecided that can be used to enhanced Probability lessons.
Maths is all pervasive in our lives. So are iOS devices, be they iPods, iPhones or iPads. All it takes for the iPad to become an essential tool in the Maths Curriculum is creativity in finding Maths in our daily lives and using the related apps available. So while I bemoaned the lack of creativity in Numeracy related apps in my last post, I finish this entry confident and excited about how the iPad can make Mathematics an exciting experience for students across all grade levels. A lot of what I have mentioned here may not be staring at you in the face when you look at your country’s Curriculum standards or national standardised tests. But I don’t mind that. Get kids doing real maths, make the links to what the Education Departments want and it will all take care of itself. Be brave, but above all, be creative and real.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of apps or ideas. I would like to hear from others how they have used apps in Maths lessons. I haven’t mentioned spreadsheet/graph making apps like Numbers or Office like apps because we’ve been using them for years. I’m looking for something new.