New resources for learning maths
José Pichel Andrés/DICYT Researchers from the University of Aveiro have studied how to improve the learning of maths by using new teaching resources that they have implemented in the Science Garden, an informal educational space that promotes scientific culture in children. As well as encouraging knowledge of maths, this initiative also trains teachers and carries out research into science education.
The researcher Sofia Nogueira is studying the results of these educational innovations. “These are proposals to get the children to work in the classroom before and after the visit and also during their time in the Science Garden”, she explains to DiCYT. The collection ‘A study visit to the Science Garden’ therefore consists of a document that contextualises the visit, three guidebooks for the pupil, and another three for the teacher with proposals concentrating on the thematic circuits of this space.
For example, in their visits to the Science Garden the pupils are invited to solve problems related to species inhabiting the ‘Aquarium of our coast’ module. “During the visit the pupils have the chance to answer mathematical challenges such as how to estimate and calculate the dimensions of the aquarium”, Sofia Nogueira explains.
In the laboratory they can touch some of the living creatures that live there, calculate the volume of a sea urchin, or add the necessary amount of salt to a container of freshwater to obtain the right saline concentration for an eel.
After the visit the pupils can choose new inhabitants for the aquarium within certain criteria such as a list of suggested species, the compatibility between them, and their adaptation to the water conditions.
This type of teaching resources has been designed mainly for pupils of about 10 years of age but also for their teachers and other instructors who visit the Science Garden. Moreover, the idea is that these teaching instruments “can inspire teachers and scientific instructors to develop their own resources”.
The objective is for the activities to allow the children to develop skills to solve problems and to communicate maths. Indeed, those in charge of the initiative emphasise that the teaching resources are operating above all as a tool for transmitting this subject in a different and efficient way, as they have confirmed in their research.
The researchers carried out a study with 4th-year pupils of the first cycle of basic education (Ciclo do Ensino Básico), who are about 10 years old, both in the classroom and in an informal educational context. The gathering of data included various techniques and instruments: observations and note-taking, exercises done by the pupils, questionnaires both before and after the activities, and interviews. The contents and statistics of the data collected were analysed.
Encouraging scientific curiosity
One of the aspects stressed by Sofia Nogueira is that of the connections between maths and physical and natural science. In one of the proposals of the teaching resources, the pupils are invited to plan a periscope using mirrors and milk cartons. “In this way they are asked to use mathematical skills to resolve problems and at the same time a knowledge of physics as their curiosity about science and technology is encouraged", she points out.
In her opinion these new didactic resources can help to solve the problems of teaching maths and science. “Our results show that the use of these teaching resources encourages essential skills for learning maths and science. Moreover, although this was not the objective of the study, we have evidence that the pupils develop favourable attitudes to science, such as persistence, curiosity, and enthusiasm, and this is interesting insofar as motivation can boost learning”, the researcher from the University of Aveiro points out.
In her opinion, the next steps in this line of research could concentrate on the development of teaching resources to strengthen the connections of maths with other disciplines. The training of teachers and scientific instructors to use these resources would be another interesting course of action, together with work with pupils of other ages.
• Nogueira, S., Rodrigues, A. V., & Vieira, R. (2014). Linking Science Garden to School and University: Teacher Training, Research and Dissemination. In M. F. M. Costa, P. Pombo, B. V. Dorrío (Eds.), Hands-on Science. Hands-on Science. Science Education with and for Society (pp. 338-345). Braga: Hands-on Science Network. ISBN: 978-989-98032-5-1. http://ria.ua.pt/handle/10773/13493