Computers and Elementary School Mathematics
Computers are becoming commonplace in school as aids to learning. Children can work individually or in pairs at a computer. Some schools place computers in the classroom, others locate the computers in computer labs. They are used in reading, writing, mathematics, science, and social studies instruction. Some programs teach keyboarding. When children use computers to learn mathematics, the computer serves as a tutor, a tool and a tutee. In this article, each of these functions is described briefly, followed by suggestions for introducing computers.
Computers as Tutors
The computer works as a tutor when it teaches concepts or skills. In most cases, the computer presents information and asks questions. The learner responds; the computer evaluates the response and decides what to present next. This type of teaching is known as Computer-Assisted Instruction (CAI). The types of CAI are tutorials, drill and practice, simulations, and instructional games.
Tutorials present new subject matter. Usually the program explains the material, presents information in small segments, and asks for specific responses, so that the learner will be involved in learning each step of a procedure, such as multiplying two-digit numbers. After this walk-through, the learner is given more leeway in responding. If the learner types a wrong response, the computer usually repeats the information required to give a correct response. Some tutorials have pictures that illustrate the ideas being taught. However, many tutorials for elementary school mathematics do not emphasize meaning, but merely present the steps in a procedure, so that students will learn to respond in a prescribed way.
Drill and practice programs are designed to help students remember material. The computer asks a question, and the learner responds. When responses are correct, the learner is usually reinforced with comments such as "Super" or a smiling face on the screen. If the response is incorrect, the computer will usually tell the learner to "try again."
Repetition is built into drill and practice programs and thus can be boring. Some are in a game format, which increases interest in the drill and practice. The program may be designed to give a record of the student's work to the student and :he teacher. To enable children to grasp the meaning of the material they are endeavoring to remember, Clements (1989) recommends that drill and practice programs be used only after understanding has been developed.
Simulations enable learners to step into the real world. Simulation programs are designed to allow students to carry out activities as they would in real life, They stress exploration, decision making, and problem solving. An example is the Whatsit Corporation (Sunburst) that enables groups of learners to set up and manage a business that markets one product for six months.
Instructional Games are not drill and practice activities but, rather, motivating activities with an element of competition. The programs are designed to teach concepts or strategies. An example is How the West Was One + Three x Four (Sunburst). This game involves a race between a stagecoach and a locomotive along a number trail. Each player is given three randomly generated numbers to use to plan a move that will advance him or her and will interfere with the progress of the opponent. Students can play together, or one student can play with the computer as the opponent.
© ______ 1995, Allyn & Bacon, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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