With the project coming to fruition this spring, Mentimeter’s own content writer Thomas sat down with KTH’s Anton and Andreas to talk about the inspiration behind the MentiMath project, their own teaching ambitions, and the importance of making mathematics accessible to all students.
Q: So tell me about the inspiration for the project, how did it come about?
A: For me (Anton) I would say mainly from working as a teacher and realising the enormous challenge of figuring out what your pupils/students actually know, and what they don’t. As a teacher in a normal classroom, you're only able to interact with one person at a time. Now for the pupils who excel at math and enjoy taking an active role in the classroom, this is not a problem. But for you as a teacher, you tend to get a very skewed view of the general level of knowledge that the class as a whole possesses. So for me this is where I see the greatest benefit for using Mentimeter in teaching - to be able to get a better picture of my pupils/students learning in real time.
But from working as a teacher, I also know how much time goes into designing presentations, so the idea with this specific project was to be able to create something that a bunch of teachers could use without having to design the presentations themselves!
Q: How did you settle on the topics you decided to cover in these modules and what was the motivation behind it?
A: It would be a combination of the previously discussed teaching experience and the research that inspired the development of the templates. So we decided to develop the templates around threshold concepts in mathematics or in other words aspects in mathematics that students in general find challenging to grasp. These threshold concepts are in our minds essential for understanding mathematics in a deeper sense and goes beyond the mere procedural tasks that students practice quite often. We think that a deeper understanding around these threshold concepts could facilitate the transition between basic education and higher education in mathematics.
For example, one of the templates elaborate with the concept of a function which - in our experience - is sometimes perceived by students in elementary school and highschool only as a formula to extract a value while at the university the concept is more or less a part of every math-course. Furthermore, you could not cover every single aspect of what is included in the curriculum of mathematics, so we decided to create the templates around threshold concepts that in our minds are important mathematical cornerstones.
Q: What is it about mathematics that appeals to you and what drew you to train for a career in teaching?
A: For me, (Anton) mathematics has never come particularly easy. Not that I’ve struggled a great deal with it either. Instead, my passion is about the learning process and see people grasp a concept and from that grow as a person. That is where the thrill is for me, and math is particularly fulfilling since you can really see when a concept “clicks” for a student/pupil. But while studying mathematics at quite a high level, I’ve come to appreciate math a lot more, seeing the beauty and “exactness” as a language, and realizing how wide it’s applications actually are.
For me, (Andreas) mathematics has always been a challenge both in high school and in my later studies. I have twisted my hair and cursed the field several times but as time passes and you get more familiar and comfortable with your hard earned knowledge the topic transforms from theoretical understanding to understanding where it could be applied in the “real world”. For me it also transformed from a “topic” to a language, and I believe that every language takes time to learn and as linguistic your surroundings are, as linguistic you will become. I think this is the reason why I would like to teach mathematics. Sometimes students and even adults struggle with mathematics and the phrases “mathematics is not for me”, “mathematics is so hard”, “I could never learn that”, et cetera are heard on a daily basis. I think that view could be different if you helped the students understand the language that is embedded and hidden in the field. I do not believe I could do this but that would at least be my aim with my teaching. Maybe to see mathematics from a different perspective, that could shed light and understanding beyond the textbook.
Q: The aim of this project was to demonstrate how expertly devised math lessons can be paired with an interactive platform to hopefully produce a learning experience for students that is engaging and accessible. Can you talk about the importance of a mathematical education for young people and why it is crucial to make it as accessible and equitable as possible?
A: One of the United Nation sustainability goals is quality education for everyone and in some sense you could argue that the richest nations in the world have some responsibility in providing qualitative and accessible education for students worldwide. Some even argue that education is the key for taking poor families out of poverty and it gives the individual means of changing her surroundings. Those are big words and by no means are we putting on any hero cape or expecting a call from the Queen of England to be knighted, but in some sense we are building and providing educational material that is accessible and free worldwide.
One of the benefits with providing mathematical education material is that it can cross some cultural teaching differences that the world has, meaning that mathematics is a language that does not change when native speech does (most of the time). By developing templates around mathematical content, could result in a more widespread use of the educational material and if the mathematics in the template is not equitable for the user, he or she could change it towards the desired design. The template and a Mentimeter-account is free worldwide, as long as you have an internet connection and a hardware that is compatible with the software. Our hope is that our template will be used and changed over and over again, because we believe that free education should be provided but also be able to adapt within the applied environment.
Q: ...and finally, talk to me about the final product. How do you feel about how the module templates have turned out?
A: At this point we feel that it’s going really well. We feel that both the design and question types are coming together in a good way to create an experience for the learner where he or she gets a deeper intuition about mathematical concepts.
But one thing that we have realized is that there is a delicate balance between making a product that is easy to adopt, and making a product that offers a novel way of teaching mathematics. So in other words, we could do templates with only quiz questions, but that wouldn't really improve the way teachers teach. Since we are interested in offering teachers a new way of going about instructing, we might have to rethink how much we need to explain the thinking behind the templates and how they can be used. If we succeed in teaching the teachers how to use the template in an optimal way, we believe what we are creating could really offer a true innovation!