Approach in teaching math in the 21st century

In a fast-approaching future in which online video libraries of dynamic, topic-specific lectures become the standard and computer-generated math exercises adapt instantaneously to efficiently maximize student progress, the goal of completely self-sufficient students apparently will have been achieved. Will teachers then be obsolete? Indeed, is that the goal of 21st century learning?

There is little doubt in my mind that the integration of online education in the classroom changes the role of the teacher in a fundamental way.

In the flipped world, teacher’s role is redefined as facilitator and coach and the students are engaged actively by “learning-from-doing” the homework that preceded class time. In this role, it is essential that a 21st Century mathematics teacher provides the necessary structure, joy and context for the students’ learning, mediates the development of critical and creative thinking, and facilitates self-directed learning mindsets. Anything less misses the opportunity the flipped model provides for deeper learning. However, it is the students themselves who delve into the content and determine the direction and depth of their learning.

Many of the traditional roles of a teacher in the 21st Century classroom remain the same, but they assume a different priority. Online resources such as short, concept-specific videos or animated simulations. As a coach, a teacher still draws on her experience guiding many different students through to mastery in a given field. She helps students identify deficiencies in skill areas, directs the student to a variety of appropriate resources, and corrects student misconceptions. She may work with students individually or in small groups, or she may lead an all-class discussion helping students to synthesize the information they have gathered and make the transfer necessary to reach deeper learning.

How does a 21st Century mathematics teacher best integrate such online education into her classroom? What teaching techniques and methodologies does she use? The best teaching practices encourage students to pursue their curiosity, deepen their interests, utilize their problem-solving skills, and develop their critical thinking skills as self-directed learners.  Within the structure, we allow for the integration of internet tools in “needs to know” online mini-labs. If one or more students have a math deficiency, something they need to know to their experiment, the teacher takes time out for those students and fills in the gap of what they need to know. Students also use computers to do on-line research, analyse results, and produce multi-media presentations of the results from their inquiry. Like actual scientists, students undertake a structured inquiry process in which they actually use internet tools as aides to develop their deeper understanding of science issues not just to keep their schedules or read.

However, while inquiry-driven projects provide a framework for student-driven learning, they also incorporate multiple teaching techniques to deepen student learning beyond the recall of a new math procedure or concept, interdisciplinary learning. Students must draw on different skill sets such as literacy, art, and presentation. PBI targets critical and creative thinking, problem-solving skills, collaboration skills, communication skills, self-direction, and design skills. By integrating online mathematics programs into a Project-Based Inquiry, a teacher gives her students a tool that enhances student-directed learning. By expanding the educational context of an online program into a PBI, a teacher provides a richer, interdisciplinary learning experience for her students.

The idea of the teacher as facilitator is not new to education, but the advent of online education programs is accelerating the transformation of today’ s classroom into an upside-down model. Although technology shifts the central content delivery role from the teacher to the internet, it is still the vitality of the student-teacher connection that enables a teacher to motivate students to deepen their knowledge about a topic. Teaching is fundamentally about communication. The most inspiring math teachers are those who engage students by communicating the joy and beauty that they themselves find in mathematics.

By Dino Gumannao


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