Recently, the Swedish Schools Inspectorate has examined mathematics teaching in grades 4–6 in 30 schools. In 27 of them, the area that needed development the most was interaction. By studying students’ conditions and needs, research showed that they struggled with exploratory conversations and interactive activities.
In The Math Gap, an initiative by the Swedish National Agency for Education, interaction is one of the four didactic perspectives that are highlighted. Research shows that interaction with the subject is central to being able to increase students’ mathematical knowledge and thus increasing math scores. While teaching, interactions with and conversations about mathematics should take place. Teachers should motivate students to develop ideas, challenge them, and engage with with students about them through exploratory conversations. If we can find solutions in digital tools, they have to implements elements of expression, communication, and interaction.
Rickard Wester is a lecturer in math education who teaches and supervises in Lund, Sweden. During a trial period, along with his students, he evaluated how the use of Magma Math has affected teaching.
Wester’s first impression was positive and optimistic:
We think Magma Math is unique and interested, and we hope we can learn more about its potential for students’ learning of math.
We have worked with different representations based on research by mathematics researcher Raymond Duval, among others. We have trained student to represent mathematics in different ways, and then finally putting those representations in Magma Math. We also got the students to discuss these representations in classrooms.
According to Wester, students believe they have learned how to use representations in expressing mathematical ideas and how to utilize them in Magma.
We received a very strong response. Students think it will now be easier to both think about and understand mathematics. It will also be easier to explain math ideas to someone else.
At the same time, there are still strong socio-mathematical norms in the classroom, according to Wester. These norms make students believe that they must be able to calculate problems in the traditional way in order to really “know” mathematics.
Since research supports working with representations, it is necessary to establish socio-mathematical norms that support them. While mathematics is about getting the right information, it is also also being able to gain a deeper understanding of mathematical ideas.
Rickard Wester believes that we will work more with classroom representations in the future. Over the past twenty years, research has been completely dominated by social perspectives. Therefore, math education can not only be about solving math, but also about interacting with ideas, learning resources, and, most importantly, each other.
We believe that knowledge is built through conversation and interaction, and so it must be taught and delivered likewise.