Vol 18, No 4 (2020): Varga 100, Special Issue, Volume 2

Published November 4, 2020



Mathematical Laboratory: Semiotic mediation and cultural artefacts in the mathematics classroom

Aim of this presentation is to summarize the influence of Tamas Varga on the Italian research and practice concerning didactics of mathematics since the 70s of the 20th centuries. While being in Budapest for the Conference I noticed that this influence was not known by most Hungarian mathematics educators. I guess that also in Italy, only the teacher educators of my generation know Varga’s influence on the teaching and learning of mathematics in primary school. Hence I start from a brief summary of development of mathematics curriculum in Italy (mainly in primary school) in the last decades of the 20th century. I focus some elements that may be connected with Varga’s influence and, later, some recent development of them.

Subject Classification: 97G20, 97-U6, 97A40

Manipulatives and semiotic tools of Game of Go as playful and creative activity to learn mathematics in early grades in France

This research develops resources to teach mathematics in French primary school by using the game of Go. A group of searchers, teachers and go players meet at university to produce teaching resources. These resources are implemented in the classroom. Then the group evaluate this implementation and improve the resources. The aim of this classroom research is to study the opportunities of the game of Go to learn mathematics and to propose a teacher training course to implement the game of Go in French primary schools in accordance with the French syllabus. Game of Go appears as a manipulative and semiotic tool to learn mathematics at primary school.

Subject Classification: 97D50, 97U60

The tools for developing a spatial geometric approach

Tamás Varga writes about the use of tools: "The rational use of tools - the colored bars, the Dienes set, the logical set, the geoboard, and some other tools - is an element of our experiment that is important for all students, but especially for disadvantaged learners." (Varga T. 1977) The range of tools that can be used well in teaching has grown significantly over the years. This paper compares spatial geometric modeling kits. Tamás Varga uses the possibilities of the Babylon building set available in Hungary in the 1970s, collects space and flat geometry problems for this (Varga T. 1973). Similarly, structured kits with significantly more options have been developed later, e.g. ZomeTool and 4D Frame. These tools are regularly used in the programs of the International Experience Workshop (http://www.elmenymuhely.-hu/?lang=en). Teachers, schools that have become familiar with the versatile possibilities of these sets, use them often in the optional and regular classes. We recorded a lesson on video where secondary students worked with the 4D Frame kit. We make some comments and offer some thoughts on this lesson.

Subject Classification: 97G40, 97D40

Prime building blocks in the mathematics classroom

This theoretical paper is devoted to the presentation of the manifold opportunities in using a little-known but powerful mathematical manipulative, the so-called prime building blocks, originally invented by two close followers of Tamás Varga, to support discovery of various concepts in arithmetic in middle school, including the Fundamental Theorem of Arithmetic or as it is widely taught, prime factorization. The study focuses on a teaching proposal to show how students can learn about greatest common divisor (GCD) and least common multiple (LCM) with understanding, and meanwhile addresses internal connections and levels of abstractness within elementary number theory. The mathematical and methodological background to understanding different aspects of the concept prime property are discussed and the benefits of using prime building blocks to scaffold students’ discovery are highlighted. Although the proposal was designed to be suitable for Hungarian sixth graders, mathematical context and indications for the use of the manipulative in both primary and high school are given.

Subject Classification: F60, C30, E40, U60

Virtual manipulatives in inquiry-based approach of 3D problems by French 5th graders

The aim of this research is to study the appropriation of a 3D environment by learners in an a-didactical situation of problem solving. We try to evaluate the relevance of the virtual 3D environment in the development of students' cognitive and metacognitive abilities. We implanted a problem-solving activity related to a 3D cube situation with an empty part in the cube in different French primary school areas in May 2019. In the experimental group each learner works individually with a PC-computer where the virtual environment ANIPPO is implemented. In the control group the pupils work in a traditional class environment. We present the results of this pre-experimentation.

Subject Classification: 97D50, 97U60, 97U70

Some logical issues in discrete mathematics and algorithmic thinking

The role of logic in mathematics education has been widely discussed from the seventies and eighties during the “modern maths period” till now, and remains still a rather controversial issue in the international community. Nevertheless, the relevance of discrete mathematics and algorithmic thinking for the development of heuristic and logical competences is both one of the main points of the program of Tamás Varga, and of some didactic teams in France. In this paper, we first present the semantic perspective in mathematics education and the role of logic in the Hungarian tradition. Then, we present insights on the role of research problems in the French tradition. Finely, we raise some didactical issues in algorithmic thinking at the interface of mathematics and computer science.

Subject Classification: 97E30

Many paths lead to statistical inference: Should teaching it focus on elementary approaches or reflect this multiplicity?

For statistics education, a key question is how to design learning paths to statistical inference that are elementary enough that the learners can understand the concepts and that are rich enough to develop the full complexity of statistical inference later on. There are two ways to approach this problem: One is to restrict the complexity. Informal Inference considers a reduced situation and refers to resampling methods, which may be completely outsourced to computing power. The other is to find informal ways to explore situations of statistical inference, also supported with the graphing and simulating facilities of computers. The latter orientates towards the full complexity of statistical inference though it tries to reduce it for the early learning encoun-ters. We argue for the informal-ways approach as it connects to Bayesian methods of inference and allows for a full concept of probability in comparison to the Informal Inference, which reduces probability to a mere frequentist concept and – based on this – restricts inference to a few special cases. We also develop a didactic framework for our analysis, which includes the approach of Tamás Varga.

Subject Classification: 97K10, 97K70, 97K50, 97D20

Better understanding mathematics by algorithmic thinking and computer programming

Tamás Varga’s mathematics education experiment covered not just mathematics, but also other related topics. In many of his works he clearly stated that computer science can support the understanding of mathematics as much as mathematics supports informatics. On the other hand, not much later than the introduction of the new curriculum in 1978, personal computers started to spread, making it possible to teach informatics in classes and in extracurricular activities. Varga’s guided discovery approach has a didactic value for other age groups as well, not only in primary school. Its long-lasting effect can be observed even in present times. Having reviewed several educational results in the spirit of Tamás Varga, we have decided to present an extracurricular course. It is an open study group for age 12-18. Students solve problems by developing Python programs and, according to our experiences, this results in a deeper understanding of mathematical concepts.

Subject Classification: 97B10, 97B20, 97D50, 97N80, 97P20, 97P30, 97P40, 97P50, 97U70

Integrating elements of data science into high-school teaching: Naïve Bayes-classification algorithm and programming in Python

Probability theory and mathematical statistics are traditionally one of the most difficult chapters of mathematics to teach. One of the authors, Péter Princz has experience in teaching various topics via computer programming of the problem at hand as a class activity. The proposed method is to involve programming as a didactic tool in hard-to-teach topics. The intended goal in this case is to implement a naïve Bayes-classifier algorithm in Python and demonstrate the machine-learning capabilities of it by applying it to a real-world dataset of edible or poisonous mushrooms. The students would implement the algorithm in a playful and interactive way. The proposed incremental development process aligns well with the spirit of Tamás Varga who considered computers as modern tools of experimental problem solving as early as in the 1960s.

Subject Classification: 97D40, 97D50, 97K50, 97K99, 97M60, 97P40, 97P50, 97U50

A Nim like game and a machine that plays it: a learning situation at the interface of mathematics and computer science

The purpose of this work is to take a didactic look at a learning situation located at the interface between mathematics and computer science. This situation offers a first approach to the concept of artificial intelligence through the study of a reinforcement learning device. The learning situation, inspired by the Computer Science Unplugged approach, is based on a combinatorial game, along with a device that learns how to play this game. We studied the learning potential when the human players face the machine. After an a priori analysis using the Theory of Didactic Situations (TDS), we conducted a pre-experiment in order to strengthen our hypotheses. In this article, we will focus on the analysis of the didactic variables, the values we have chosen for these variables and their effects on students’ strategies.

Subject Classification: 97D99, 97K99, 97P80

Straight line or line segment? Students’ concepts and their thought processes

The article focuses on students’ understanding of the concept of a straight line. Attention is paid to whether students of various ages work with only part of a straight line shown or if they are aware that it can be extended. The presented results were obtained by a qualitative analysis of tests given to nearly 1,500 Czech students. The paper introduces the statistics of students’ solutions, and discusses the students’ thought processes. The results show that most of the tested students, even after completing upper secondary school, are not aware that a straight line can be extended. Finally, we present some recommendations for fostering the appropriate concept of a straight line in mathematics teaching.

Subject Classification: 97C30, 97D70, 97G40

Visualisation in geometry education as a tool for teaching with better understanding

In primary and secondary geometry education, some problems exist with pupils’ space thinking and understanding of geometric notions. Visualisation plays an important role in geometry education, and the development of pupils’ visualisation skills can support their spatial imagination. The authors present their own thoughts on the potential of including visualisation in geometry education, based on the analysis of the Hungarian National Core Curriculum and Slovak National Curriculum. Tasks for visualisation are also found in international studies, for example the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Augmented reality (AR) and other information and communication technology (ICT) tools bring new possibilities to develop geometric thinking and space imagination, and they also support mathematics education with better understanding.

Subject Classification: 97U10, 97G10

Rational errors in learning fractions among 5th grade students

Our paper focuses on empirical research in which we map out the errors in learning fractions. Errors are often logically consistent and rule-based rather than being random. When people face solving an unfamiliar problem, they usually construct rules or strategies in order to solve it (Van Lehn, 1983). These strategies tend to be systematic, often make ‘sense’ to the people who created them but often lead to incorrect solutions (Ben-Zeev, 1996). These mistakes were named rational errors by Ben-Zeev (1996). The research aims to show that when learning fractions, students produce such errors, identified in the literature, and that students who make these kinds of mistakes achieve low results in mathematics tests. The research was done among 5th-grade students.

Subject Classification: 97C10, 97C30, 97C70, 97D60, 97D70, 97F50

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