Apps for Maths,Coding and Logical Thinking

Our Resident Writer Secondary School Teacher, Spencer Riley, talks about the best apps for teaching apps in fun and less obvious ways. How to you use apps to practice maths?

“Why are we learning this?” This is a question that secondary maths teachers often hear.  The most pressing reason is to pass an exam.  That is the reality in which we live.  As teachers, though, we want the students to see deeper than that, to want to learn it purely to know it.  At the very least, regardless of their ability, we want to inspire them enough to value learning it.

Apps can provide different ways to learn in more lateral ways which, at the same time, serve to look at concepts and problems from different angles and, in turn, deepen the knowledge of the subject at hand. Tablets, with their wealth of apps, offer a great way to encourage this inspiration.  With them we can provide novel ways for students to utilise their knowledge and we can remove barriers that hold them back.

For geometry, rather than set a worksheet with increasingly complex questions you could use one of the programming apps that exist on tablets and set challenges which require them to think about and utilise subjects such as the Pythagorean Theorem and trigonometry. Taking into account the programming utilises basic geometry and calculus skills, it is the perfect opportunity to look at how coding and maths come together. After all, coding is about using basic maths to tell the computer to perform a set of tasks using logic.

You want an app that is quick to learn so that the programming doesn’t take over the maths. For example, Codea is a great app but if you want to keep focused purely on geometry you might be better picking a simpler app such as Coders which uses the same language but is more about plotting lines and shapes on a screen.  For 3d geometry you could make use of the old classroom stalwart of LOGO which is taken into the 3rd dimension by LOGO3D.  Using these apps the students are part of the formulation of the problem as well as the solution.

Sometimes we have to think laterally when trying to find a stimulating way to teach an area of maths.  As an example if you are covering number systems, searching binary on an app store will not help a great deal  Nim is a simple game that can always be won by the player who goes first if they utilise binary.   Getting a Nim game, and teaching the students to become unbeatable through a mastery of binary, reinforces this idea that many aspects of maths have surprising uses.

You can prove to students that their learning in school is only the beginning.  Pick a suitable subject and spend a lesson where the students extend their knowledge in the subject independently.  The Khan Academy app is good starting points for letting students develop their skills in furthering their knowledge.  Inspired students need the skills and the confidence to further their own learning.

Students who find maths more difficult are particularly in need of extra inspiration.  For them this can come in the form of personal achievement.  The instant response of apps and the impermanence of mistakes encourage experimentation.  This experimentation ensures a closer engagement with the cause and effect of their calculations.  A good example of this is the app Ooops.  Although quite a basic app aesthetically, it allows students to see how brackets impact on the order of operations instantly. Students don’t feel embarrassment at being wrong in front of the tablet or needing further help from it.  If they are wrong they can follow the process and see how it went wrong before trying again.

Greater engagement with the subject can come from discussion.  I have personally had some really interesting discussions with students using iPads as ways to demonstrate a point.  Geoboard is intuitive and unrestricted enough to allow students to illustrate their points about, for example, what they think is the relationship between area and perimeter, while talking the other members of the group through it.   Students become intrigued by questions that flow naturally from discussion and feel inspired to work out the answer.

Inspiring students means giving a reason for them to want to know something.  Tablets are a tool that can minimise demotivating factors and open up a wealth of ways for students to take their learning in directions that interest them.

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