The nature of the mathematical skills required from competent citizens is changing. Gone are the days of inertly applying and performing standard calculations. The mathematical minds of the future will need to understand how different economic, social, technological and work-related processes can be mathematically represented or modeled. A project included in the Academy of Finland's research program The Future of Learning, Knowledge and Skills (TULOS) is exploring new pedagogical practices and technological environments that can prepare students for the flexible and adaptive use of their mathematical skills in future activity environments.
"Our goal is to have students be able to use their mathematical skills in a highly adaptive and flexible way. We want to promote mathematical thinking so that future minds can recognize the mathematical aspects in their environments," says Academy Professor Erno Lehtinen from the University of Turku, the project's principal investigator. The new pedagogical methods, digital games and other applications promoting an active awareness and mathematical reading of the surrounding environment are aimed at sparking an interest in mathematical mind games.
The educational games developed in the research project are designed to support a creative application of flexible mathematical strategies for novel situations. The idea is also to help students view natural numbers as an interlinked system and understand mathematical contents, such as equations.
Inspired by everyday phenomena
The research project will also investigate how students understand fractions and decimals and how they flexibly apply their skills in interpreting various practical phenomena. "In our previous breakthrough studies, we've established the role of spontaneous quantitative focusing tendencies in the development of mathematical thinking. Now, we're trying to develop new pedagogical practices and technological environments that will inspire students to observe quantitative relationships in their everyday surroundings," Academy Professor Lehtinen explains.
The idea is to get students to use fraction-based thinking even before they actually are taught fractions at school. According to Lehtinen, the premise is that the ability to perceive quantitative and later fraction-based relationships in varying practical situations can help students manage the difficult conceptual transition from natural numbers to fractions and bridge school learning with students' everyday activities.
The project will make use of both basic research and applied school research. The mathematical phenomena under study will be investigated in laboratory settings using precise experiments, observations and even brain-imaging methods. On the other hand, the research methods will also involve longitudinal studies in normal school environments. The plan is to test the new pedagogical methods and games in comprehensive teaching pilots using wide-ranging national-level data.
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