EDUCATION: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Maths Online: the new resource for students, parents and home-schoolers
, May 15, 2010
Let's face it, most people don't like maths! But in today's world, a sound basic understanding of mathematics is the foundation for many occupations and careers. One of the problems of the past 30 years in maths education - as in other subject areas such as English and history - is that there has been less emphasis on getting the basics right, and many people have suffered as a consequence.
The internet provides new opportunities for students, parents and home-schoolers to access quality maths courses, and a number of excellent internet-based maths sites have been developed in Australia, which provide interactive instruction in this important area.
For primary school children, there is Smartkiddies Mathematics
); for middle school students there is Cambridge's HotMaths
); and for secondary students, Maths Online
), which is one of the best of them.
These programs are all interactive, and have attracted the attention of hundreds of thousands of students, parents and teachers around the country.Sponsorship
Maths Online was a commercial product, like the other online programs; but after being sponsored by McDonald's Restaurants, it is now available free for students, parents and teachers.
The level of interest in this program is phenomenal, although it has been the subject of little media interest. According to the Maths Online website, since the program was introduced a year ago, an extraordinary 1,750 schools, 145,000 families and 750,000 students have enrolled in the program.
Developed by Australian maths teachers, Maths Online is based on the Australian state maths curriculum for years 7–12. The program contains hundreds of complete maths lessons, which take students from the simplest concepts to the more complex, in relatively short stages. At the end of each lesson, students are given a test (called a worksheet) to ensure that they have understood the unit.
When a student completes the worksheet, which they are asked to print out, and complete with pen and paper, the student then sends the answers to Maths Online which marks the student's work, and returns it to the student.
The results of students' work are kept in individual student files, and the student is given feedback on problem areas.Clever program
The program is cleverly structured to supplement what students learn at school, and can be used independently of the school curriculum. At the same time, Maths Online encourages teachers to sign up, and to use the program to provide independent evaluation of their students' work, with reports on students' progress in individual units, as well as the whole course.
As most people know, one of the main difficulties which students have with mathematics is that if the foundations are not securely understood, it is very difficult to understand and apply concepts which are based on those foundations.
If students are absent from school for only a few days, it can mean there are some areas of the course which they have not studied and do not understand. Sometimes teachers are incapable of explaining mathematical ideas in terms which students can understand. And many students are too shy to admit they just don't understand what is being taught.
The beauty of Maths Online is that it brings to light those concepts which a student has not understood, and will encourage the student (or teacher) to repeat the exercise, until it is mastered.
Students can study in their own time, and at their own pace. And if they are using a computer and accessing the internet, this is a very good way to learn. Unlike many school programs, the beauty of this approach is that parents are involved every step of the way.Home-schoolers
In fact, for home-schoolers, it provides an opportunity to access first-class educational material, at no cost. Home-schooling parents can enrol, using the family account.
Even for students who are gifted in maths, this program is very valuable. It provides them with an opportunity to preview lessons at home before they are taught them at school. This is a very powerful tool, as it gives students an opportunity to have two different approaches to a particular subject, and also gives them an opportunity to see how a particular unit fits into the whole course.
Every student, parent and teacher has access to the entire Year 7–12 curriculum, which means that a student can go backwards, if necessary, to review a particular unit which might have caused difficulty in the past, or is needed as a foundation for a later unit of study.
For maths teachers, Maths Online provides a virtual administration centre, from which teachers can monitor the progress of every student. This is very similar conceptually to what head teachers have in schools today. It creates a roll of teachers and students, assigns students and teachers to classes, permits the removal of students and teachers, sets tasks to be performed, sets the academic standard, and allows instant monitoring of each student's progress.
For example, it sets a student's pass grade (as a percentage, not a letter of the alphabet and not a pass/fail), and sets down how many attempts a student must make before getting access to the solutions to maths problems.
The tasks to be performed include a start and end date, and the number of students involved in any particular task. This allows teachers to ensure that students are keeping up with the set work, as well as monitoring students' results.
Teachers who are going to be absent from school can also set tasks into the future, so that in the event of a prolonged absence, students can be set work, with each one having a unique "reveal date", when a student is notified of a task, and a unique "due date".
Every student has a unique "login", which permits students to return to the web site at exactly the same point that they left it previously, to continue their work. This means that students do not have to remember what they were doing when last they were logged in, and also gives them immediate personal access to the results of the tests which they have completed.
A potential use of this program which should not be ignored is adult education. There are many adults who failed to get a handle on maths while at school. Maths Online lets people create their own accounts, and simply work their way through the program at their own pace.Starting point
Most people will find the introductory units very simple, so adults can simply skip the sections which they already know, and enter the program at the point where they are being challenged.
Alternatively, adults can simply study a concept which they were never able to understand at school. If you could never understand algebra, for example, or geometry, you can profitably study just that section of the curriculum.
Not surprisingly, the Maths Online web site contains many glowing testimonials, from teachers, parents and students. It is to be hoped that this project stops the drift away from maths in schools.
The success of the Maths Online project raises the question as to whether similar initiatives could be taken in relation to other subject areas. Language studies, economics, accounting and business studies, for example, would seem to offer real opportunities, as there are already extensive audio-visual resources available in these areas.
Putting these into programs which can be accessed on the internet would seem to be the next step forward. Already universities are offering distance education courses in some faculties, and this will undoubtedly increase in future.
Science subjects such as biology, physics and chemistry have some potential; but the experimental side of these subjects would have to be handled in a different way.
Other subjects, such as history and social sciences, are more problematic. There have been many attempts to politicise them, with environmental studies often being used to promote the extreme green agenda on global warming, population control, opposition to the mining, farming, fishing and forestry industries, and other issues.
However, the internet provides a possible alternative source of information to existing politically-correct courses which are being force-fed to many students.
The appearance of comprehensive maths programs readily accessible through the internet foreshadows a major change in direction for education. No longer does education have to take place only in the classroom, with both the strengths and weaknesses that this implies.
Potentially it empowers parents, students and teachers by giving them well-designed courses which can be accessed from the convenience of the home, and in ways which have hitherto been impossible.