21st century math skills

By Murray Bourne, 30 Mar 2008

I received the following from a reader this week.

Hi Zac,

I'm a high school math teacher that has been trying out some 21st Century skills in my classroom. I have a great administrator that really tries to get us whatever we need. We are participating in a 21st Century PLP with Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Will Richardson and learned that we need to contact the people we find as good examples of 21st Century teachers...so, here I am. I really enjoy your blog and have referenced it as a model for my own blog MathematicallySpeaking.

I would like to ask you to just look over the beginning of my blog that I have been using with my students. Niagara Academy is an alternative school that hosts many different district school students with just as many different learning histories. So, as you'll notice, their comments aren't exactly "deep," but it is a work in progress.

Through my own explorations I have seen some teachers using scribe posting with their classes, but I just don't think my students are ready for that leap quite yet.

Do you have any recommendations on what I can do with my students to help them step into 21st Century learning?

Thank you,

My reply

Hi Cassie and thanks for your mail. Good on you for "trying out some 21st century skills" with your students.

The Powerful Learning Practice sounds really interesting - they have some good ideas there, especially getting all of you to create wikis and blogs and access RSS feeds and the like. There's nothing like learning by doing!

I really enjoy your blog and have referenced it as a model for my own blog

Thank you and I'm glad that you enjoy squareCircleZ.

I would like to ask you to just look over the beginning of my blog that I have been using with my students.

I checked out your blog and I wouldn't worry at this stage about the student responses being "deep" or not. Step 1 is getting them to come and comment - and they are doing that, which is great. I especially liked Melanie C.'s comment:

...so even though i hate math we deffinatly need it no matter how much i say we dont i know deep down inside that we do need math.

Scribe Posting

Before you get students to participate in scribe posting, it may be a good idea to do it low-tech (paper and pencil) in class first. Once the students have taken a few turns and are getting the idea (and showing some enthusiasm), it would be a good idea to suggest to move it online.

21st Century Work & Life Skills

There's a mountain of stuff on the Web about 21st century computer skills for work (MS Office, databases, reports, Powerpoint, etc) and 21st century computer skills for life (like online security, e-commerce, online banking, how much to reveal on MySpace, how to blog, how to edit a wiki, etc) so I won't dwell too much on those issues.

Since your blog is about mathematics, let's talk about that.

21st Century math skills

You may have already seen my post 21st century computer algebra literacies where I gave some suggestions about learning how to do math using a computer algebra system. I believe it is crucial that students learn how to use computer algebra systems. This does not replace paper-and brain-based math by any means, but it is a vital skill. There are more open source computer algebra systems appearing all the time.

21st Century math communication skills: I get a lot of questions from students via the Comments facility in Interactive Mathematics.

Most of the questions are actually unreadable because of the difficulties everyone has when typing mathematics. I often have to ask for clarification if the students type things like sinx/2. I need to ask:

Does your question mean sin (x/2) or (sin x)/2?

A similar thing happens with sin2x. From the context, I need to try to figure out if it means (sin x)^2 or actually sin (2x).

So what I am driving at is that students need to be able to communicate math online.

Some things to investigate and to get your students to try out or at least discuss:

Math images: Even if we can use something like jsMath to insert math into our blog, you still need to include images of diagrams from time to time.

That could be another thing your students could learn how to do - create images (graphs, geometry, whatever) and learn how to upload them to the blog (or to Flickr and then embed the image).

I think that's enough for now. I hope it helps.


See the 2 Comments below.

2 Comments on “21st century math skills”

  1. Cassie says:

    Thank you so much for your incredibly thorough response! To be honest, I'm so excited that someone of experience has looked at my blog and has given me great feedback and ideas. I feel like such a online social newbie and I crave any contact from educators that are outside of my physical building walls! I invite any other comments/suggestions/or feedback!

    Thanks again!

  2. Murray says:

    Hi Cassie. You are welcome - I'll drop in from time to time and check out how your students are going.

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