Author Archives: brianlannen

The mix of software and handheld technologies – perfect partnership!

When I started teaching in the mid 80’s, it was evident then that emerging computer technology was poised to play a significant role in the future educational landscape. I had interacted with my first computer at university in 1980. Although I never actually saw it, I was assured that it existed in a large room somewhere behind the wall where I studiously typed my code. I first saw a personal computer in 1983 and by the time I started in schools a couple of years later, they were reasonably commonplace. Initially school software packages were mostly fixed programs, generally little more than a novelty, but then the first word processors arrived and my typewriter became redundant. For a maths teacher however, the big leap forward was the spreadsheet; a virtually endless page of inter-related computations. This definitely had potential. I remember using this combined with BASIC and LOGO in attempt to build some sort of algebraic function grapher. My endeavour at that only produced limited success. However by the end of the decade, there became various software packages available that achieved the basics of what I wanted.

Although not absolutely ideal, I managed to roster my students access to this useful facility and it greatly enhanced their capacity to realise links between the geometry and the algebra. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if they could access such technology on a full-time 1:1 basis?! Enter the 1990s and you know what happened.

TI-81 introduced 1990.

I was at a regional maths conference when somebody placed a miniature (calculator-sized) pedagogically-dedicated device in my hand. Not only did it have an advanced but interactive function-plotter, but also onboard was a powerful and demonstrative statistics package. This handheld device would have been a TI-81 or TI-82.

Within a couple of years the partnership was completed when I got hold of an LCD panel that sat upon an overhead projector while attached to the teacher’s calculator. I could demonstrate, students could follow and explore, and we could all discuss. At about the same time, laptop computers joined the mix but they were incredibly expensive. While the standard practice of many other teachers was to book their class into “the computer room”, I was to be seen walking along the corridor with the LCD panel under my arm as I headed for my next class. I should point out that at that stage the handheld technology was not yet permitted for use in exams. I simply saw it as a pedagogical tool – one that was much more flexible and superior to the computer room model.

By mid 90s the handheld technology had advanced to the point of incorporating a Computer Algebra System (CAS) and it became clear that our examination system of memory tests and algorithmic processes needed to change. The bar was raised and, with the first CAS-active examinations accompanying the new millennium, students were required more than ever before to demonstrate their ability to apply mathematical understanding and real problem solving.

Within the next decade many schools were implementing 1:1 laptop programs, with the computer power and connectivity of these machines far exceeding that of the handheld devices. I thought that perhaps that might spell the end for my beloved handheld device (which by then was a TI-Nspire).

But remember that partnership thing. By utilising a projector screen to share demonstrations from laptop software (TI-Nspire CAS) and having my students simultaneously extend their own explorations with what is essentially the same software but on smaller, more portable handheld devices, we now have demonstration, shared discussion and student investigation all perfectly catered for. This now is the ideal partnership and I am not exaggerating when I say that this is the model that I have now employed in every lesson of every day for nearly all of the past decade. The underlying reason for the success of this ultimate model is simple – the technology I am using was designed and developed specifically for education. Computer and laptop technology, while certainly very useful, are not in themselves task specific and purpose-built education tools. Computer technology will continue to advance but will never match TI handheld devices for their value in portability, pedagogy, and simple convenience as an examination tool.     

The Happy Rover – Girls in STEM Day

As the focus on STEM continues to gain momentum, so also did TI-Rover when it was put to the test by over 200 girls who attended a Girls in STEM day that was held recently at Ivanhoe Girls Grammar (9 Aug 2019). Hosted by the Mathematical Association of Victoria and attracting sponsorship from Ford, Texas Instruments, Engineers Without Borders, Aurecon and others, the successful event is now in its third year.

True to the theme of ‘Inspired by Curiosity’ the girls were receptive to presentations from GHD Group, SORA Architecture, Quantum Market Research, and the Bureau of Meteorology. Following morning tea and a panel discussion, the girls were given their chance for real hands-on STEM-task engagement in a two-part activity challenge that was facilitated by Texas Instruments and Engineers Without Borders.

Accredited T3 Instructors Shelly Cross and Karleigh Nicholls, from St Hildas School on the Gold Coast, led the TI component which assigned students the task of coding TI-Rover to race against other Rovers from fellow student teams; forward to a finish line, turn around and then return to the start line. Delighted T3 Manager, Daisy Patsias, observed “The girls were very engaged and loved ‘playing’ with TI-Rover. Presenters Shelly and Karleigh as always did a fabulous job and the girls appeared to love the activity. There was a lot of competitive spirit displayed on the day.”

Racecam video can be viewed at: https://youtu.be/M4BbVomPrU4

Canberra Maths Association does it again – Meeting (High) Expectations

CMA delivered another brilliant conference last weekend – and this time even the weather was fine! Informative and stimulating keynote presentations were delivered by Amie Albrecht and Jane Watson. Another 28 workshop sessions were on the program for delegates to choose from. Accredited T3 Instructors Brian Lannen from Murray Mathematics and John Bament from O’Loughlin Catholic College, were part of the speaker team, with Brian hosting workshops on Data Capture for Optimisation Problems and Making Music with your Calculator (TI-Innovator). Meanwhile John presented sessions on The Art of Mathematics (TI-Rover) and 10 Types of People in the World (Coding).    

All four of these sessions were well attended and enthusiastically received. T3 Manager, Daisy Patsias, was also in attendance and was pleased for the opportunity to meet with Canberra teachers and CMA organisers.

Texas Instruments: instrumental in sponsorship with the hosting of Morning Tea as well as some luck prize draws. Pictured here is lucky draw winner, Damien Nemeth, from ACT’s School For Excellence with the new TI-Nspire CX II Calculator.

On his evaluation form, Brian commented that the strong and well-balanced academic program, physical facilities (ADFA), catering and hospitality have become standard expectations for this conference. At the Happy Hour wine & cheese, he explained to CMA President Jo McKenzie, “Sorry, but I can’t really tick the ‘exceeded expectation’ box, because I know from experience that this conference is always very good”.   

Link to conference resources will appear on the CMA website soon http://www.canberramaths.org.au/conference-2019-resources.html (From similar links on the CMA webpage, you can also view the resources shared from previous conferences).

Formulas for changing VCE Mathematics Curriculum

Author: Brian Lannen

I have been teaching senior mathematics since 1985 and also working on a range of curriculum consultancy projects since 1995.

My teaching has been mostly in Victoria and New South Wales in both government and independent school systems and my consultancy work in Australia, USA and south east Asia. I like stepping across the boundaries and am generally keen to embrace diversity and innovation. 

Across my time in this profession I have seen numerous educational initiatives and trends come and go. Some have been good, some not so good, but always interesting.

Recently my inbox pinged with the arrival of a memorandum from the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) inviting maths teachers and interested parties to comment on a suite of proposed structural changes for the new VCE senior mathematics Study Design. This took me a bit by surprise. Didn’t we just have changes only a few years ago? I phoned a few of my colleagues. Most had missed the memo. Generally they were comfortable in having just managed to implement the more recent changes and their focus right now is more on enjoying the Easter holidays than to contemplate further curriculum upheaval. But the Stage 1 survey response is due by midday 10th May. What rolls on from there may well inform the direction of VCE mathematics for the next decade. This matters! This is why I am blogging. I can’t afford full page ads in the paper. Who reads the paper these days anyway? But we need to be informed and we need to make comment. Here is my summation of the proposed structures on offer:

Structure A (both models) is reasonably familiar, as it is along similar lines to what we have already been teaching. Structure B (as far as it has been defined) looks like something that could be partly built from current curriculum plus options (all really yet to be defined) and Structure C is a significantly restructured commercially driven Wolfram-directed computer-based model.

I’d be interested in hearing your comments, more importantly so would the VCAA. Here is the link to their survey: Click here to take the survey.


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