Literature Review

The impact of digital tools on mathematical education in elementary school

Digitalization is a term that describes many areas in the 21st century. It offers a vast amount of possibilities, such as an easier and more effective distribution of knowledge. Kids are already using digital tools (smartphones, ipads and the internet etc.) for both entertainment and to further their learning about the world around them. According to research from 2018 done by Medietilsynet, a Norwegian media authority, only one percent of children between the age of 9-18 report not having access to a mobile phone. Their study shows that 93% of girls, and 91% of boys, at the age of 11, have their own smart phone, while 100% of girls and 98% of boys have access to a mobile phone. Studies show that pupils with internet access at home are likely to achieve higher grades at exams (Boffey, 2011).

Despite of that, the mathematical education in Norwegian schools is following a traditional pattern. The teacher starts with an introduction of the topic, presents some examples on the blackboard, and then asks the students to solve the tasks in their books by using a particular method (Alseth, Breiteg & Brekke, 2003). Students at elementary school have access to school computers at computer labs, provided that the teacher has made a reservation of the computer lab. In addition, they may have access to PCs at libraries and in classrooms. Because of the quality and age of computers at elementary schools, it can take up to 15-25 minutes for every student to turn on their pc and log in. Many teachers consider that a waste of time (Hatlevik, Tømte, Skaug, Ottestad, 2011).

Norwegian schools already use some digital tools such as calculators. Using calculators can speed up the process of solving more complicated mathematical problems and makes the students more positive towards mathematics. If a student is to make full use of the calculator or any other digital tool, a person of higher knowledge as mentor should be present (Riviera & Becker, 2004).

There might be some difficulty for teachers with less experience in the digital field to adapt to teaching using the tools provided by today’s technology. Norway is stated to be a country on top when it comes to the usage of digital media and tools in school, this does however not mean that we do not have a lot of room for improvement. It’s crucial that the teachers are informed on how to make use of tablets, computers and other digital tools, and be given enough time to adapt to the new circumstances and a new way of teaching. (Bell, 2015, page 35).  A teacher should always appraise the app or the digital tool and ask why it’s exactly this one that should be used during the classes. There is a vast amount of available mathematical apps that claim to improve the understanding of mathematics and accelerate learning, but the quality varies. As stated by Larkin (2015) most apps ‘’do not cut the mustard’’. According to his research, there are three exceptional apps: Mathemagica, Area of rectangles and Math Galaxy Fun (Larkin, 2015).

Usage of digital tools can further the understanding of the subject (Larkin, 2015). According to research performed by Markseth for her master thesis, 66% of students report gaining a better understanding of the subject by using digital tools (Markseth, 2017).  Larkin’s opinion is that the usage of ICT has the potential to improve students’ understanding and contribute to the development of mathematical higher order thinking. Higher order thinking can be defined as such:

«Higher order thinking occurs when a person takes new information and information stored in memory and interrelates and/or rearranges and extends this information to achieve a purpose or find possible answers in perplexing situations» (Lewis & Smith, 1993, s. 136).

DragonBox is a digital learning tool made specifically for learning algebra. It gained an international recognition for being one of the best serious games and a game changer for the teaching of mathematics. While Kikora is an online digital learning tool that teaches mathematics through use of common mathematical language. Dolonen and Kluge (Dolonen & Kluge, 2014) have observed that students who used DragonBox were more motivated and active during the classes. There was however no improvement in learning. Kikora, on the other hand, through its use of common mathematical language, accelerated the learning process and was shown to be more effective.  Visualization and representation of abstract mathematical concept is of great help while trying to build students’ understanding of mathematical concepts (De Vita, Verschaffel & Elen, 2014), which both DragonBox and Kikora does.

According to surveys performed on students, the cognitive effort, intention and motivation carries more weight than the method the knowledge is delivered. (Clement Chen, Keith T. Jones, Keith Moreland, 2017). Students achieve higher levels of motivation to learn mathematics through understanding of mathematical terms. Howbeit, several studies prove that taking notes and writing by hand is more effective for remembering information than typing on a computer. Writing down notes requires a deeper cognitive- processing of the material than typing it. Typed notes are often transcribed verbatim, which means that the student hasn’t processed the material as much as a student taking notes by hand. A study performed by Mueller and Oppenheimer (2014) show that students that write by hand achieve higher scores on tests than the students who type on a keyboard. On the other hand; there is no doubt that using the computer is more effective for recording larger amounts of information, which can be reviewed on a later occasion. The notes are easier to share with others, search through, edit and fix. That being considered, typing might be a better solution if the student need’s to write a lot, which isn’t often the case in mathematical education.

In spite of student’s positive experience and attitude with using digital tools in mathematical education, computers are used less for teaching mathematics than other subjects. Approximately half of the student’s report using the computer during lessons in mathematics for half an hour or less, while 16% report not using the computer at all (Edgeberg, Hultin & Berge, 2017).

For her master thesis, Markseth (2017) has interviewed two students.  They tell that navigating through all the documents and apps on a single computer screen may be cumbersome. Although using computers for mathematics is fun, the screen can cause headaches and tired eyes. One of the students told that there might be too much screen time a day, which she considers tiresome (Markseth, 2017).

Another problem with implementing digital tools at schools are the big differences between school’s digital infrastructure and internet speed. Differences in economy, demography, topography and varying willingness to prioritize digital development are some of the reasons for the differences. The network must be able to handle hundreds of students without reducing the connection quality for a particular student (Kunnskapsdepartementet, 2017).  According to a 2018 questionnaire (Skaftun 2018) answered by 70% of schools in Norway, 25% of municipalities have made a political decision to arrange a computer for every student attending classes 1-4, while the percentage for classes 4-7 was 29%.

There are big differences in the knowledge children possess when they start attending school, which makes it easy to be left behind in the mathematical subject (Nøra, 2015). With only one teacher and almost thirty students in one class, it has become increasingly hard to keep track of what each student needs to further increase their skills and knowledge. Digital solutions can much easier help keep track on students and their progress in learning (Bell, 2015, Page 34). A possible solution is the use of videoconferences. It could allow absent students to participate in the lecture and make it possible to play the lecture at home and review the notes (Bell, 2015, Page 34).

According to a literature review on the impact of digital technology of learning and teaching made by ICF Consulting Services Ltd in 2015, digital tools can help with reducing inequalities and promoting inclusion by providing students with needs for additional support with resources. Digital resources could help students that are even as much as 12 months behind their age group in their reading age to catch up.

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The impact of digital tools on mathematical education

The impact of digital tools on mathematical education

  • How do simple tools help in learning mathematics? 
  • What different digital tools are available? 
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages with digital tools at elementary schools? 
  • How is the information flow in traditional elementary schools? 



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