Learning Technologies and Mathematics

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How English teachers got interested in Mathematics : 

2 April 2007 How English teachers got interested in Mathematics We teach in an intensive English Program at SQU, required for most entering students at SQU. These students are Arabic native speakers. Primary and secondary education was in Arabic. Instruction at SQU is in English. Many of our students will be in the colleges of Sciences, Engineering, Agriculture or Medicine. Maths is in their future.

A paradox : 

2 April 2007 A paradox The students were all successful in secondary school. They feel that they know Maths well; it is often a favourite subject. However, Maths professors report that students struggle in introductory courses, especially Pre-Calculus. This is true even though the material is primarily a review of secondary school material.

A paradox leads to research : 

2 April 2007 A paradox leads to research We had more conversations with Maths professors. They identified language, not concepts, as the key problem. We did classroom research: Students were given a series of problems (7th grade level) to solve and then explain in English. The result: Students were unable to comprehend most of the word problems, and could not express even the most basic mathematical operations in English.

It isn’t an SQU-specific phenomenon : 

2 April 2007 It isn’t an SQU-specific phenomenon The problem is English. Students who studied Maths in another language in primary and secondary school have never been taught most Maths words in English. These words just do not appear in EFL materials. This is true regardless of the students’ mother tongue. A colleague who taught at North Seattle Community College in the U.S. found the same problem with students from many language backgrounds.

Effects of language lack : 

2 April 2007 Effects of language lack Students don’t understand lectures and miss explanations of new concepts. Students fall behind; by the time they figure out what the professor said, the class has already moved on to something new. They struggle to catch up. Students are unable (or too embarrassed) to ask questions in class, so they cannot get clarification when they are confused.

Details of the problem (1) : 

2 April 2007 Details of the problem (1) Complete absence of basic Mathematics vocabulary, e.g. Numbers beyond 100 Fractions Decimals Divided by Times Equals Cubed Square root Parallel and perpendicular Angle Etc…

Details of the problem (2) : 

2 April 2007 Details of the problem (2) Weak reading comprehension 1) Problem Vocabulary, e.g. In all, left, 1 out of 10, etc. Americanisms (measurements, places) Cultural gaps, e.g. bank interest, betting odds 2) Strategies Understanding what the problem is asking for Recognizing key words Determining what information is known (Native speakers may have the same difficulties.)

Who can address this problem? : 

2 April 2007 Who can address this problem? Maths professors can’t be expected to teach very basic vocabulary; there isn’t time. Most English curricula already have more objectives than can be met in the time available. Adding something new is not easily done. Special classes can be created. North Seattle Community College offered a basic Maths course taught by an ESL teacher. This is not always, or even often, a possible solution.

Our Solution: Self-Access web-based materials : 

2 April 2007 Our Solution: Self-Access web-based materials The materials contain: Explanatory texts about an area of Mathematics. A series of related questions. Some are text based, others require listening and responding. A clickable glossary, with clickable sound files for students to hear the pronunciation of the words.

Advantages : 

2 April 2007 Advantages Materials are available at any time for students who need to build Maths vocabulary; all they need is access to the course. There is no intrusion on established Maths or English curricula. Materials have both a reading and a listening comprehension component.

Considerations : 

2 April 2007 Considerations Current materials are text based; students must be able to read at an intermediate level to understand. These materials are not designed to teach Maths concepts. The purpose is to provide the words in English for students to express Maths concepts that they have already acquired. It is not possible to anticipate and teach all the non-Maths words that may cause problems in a Maths class.

Example 1: Subtraction : 

2 April 2007 Example 1: Subtraction Text plus matching exercise The focus is on the different ways of expressing subtraction; it isn’t always with the word “minus.”

Example 1 : 

2 April 2007 Example 1

Example 2: Lines : 

2 April 2007 Example 2: Lines Explanatory text with multiple choice questions; the focus is on a few basic vocabulary items. Some questions are text based; some require listening practice of words that may be difficult

Example 2 : 

2 April 2007 Example 2

Using the Glossary : 

2 April 2007 Using the Glossary Clicking the highlighted text brings up a glossary with audio

Example 3: Word Problems : 

2 April 2007 Example 3: Word Problems Text guidance on how to solve word problems. The point of the questions is not to solve the problem but to examine the language and strategies necessary to find a solution.

Example 3 : 

2 April 2007 Example 3

Example 3 : 

2 April 2007 Example 3 Feedback: Students couldn’t solve this problem because they weren’t sure of what “in all” meant.

How materials were made : 

2 April 2007 How materials were made The questions were written with the Hot Potatoes program, which is free for teachers. It can be downloaded from the internet. Audio files were recorded with Audacity, a sound editing program. A free downloadable version is adequate to record voice on the computer, then save it as an MP3 file. All the materials were assembled in a WebCT course. For those who don’t know WebCT, it is one of the common educational management programs in use around the world. Others include Blackboard and Moodle. It is designed to be used in Internet Explorer

How you can get the materials : 

2 April 2007 How you can get the materials Anyone wishing to use this program can try it on the SQU website. Go to http://webct.squ.edu.om . You will be asked to log in. Use tesol07 as both a login and a password. (Yes, it’s case sensitive.) For those who would like to use these materials in their own institutions, please email Bill Huguelet at huguelet@squ.edu.om. It would be helpful if you could put “tesol07” as the subject. The program will be then be sent to you, with the understanding that the materials can be used freely, but they are copyright and are not to be used for commercial purposes. Please specify if you want it in WebCT format (which can be imported into Blackboard) or as the original Hot Potatoes and MP3 files.