This post is a collaboration between Jules Kidston (Assistant Learning Designer, PGLD) and James Tracy (Learning Designer, PGLD)
Have you ever wanted to be Sal from The Khan Academy? Some of the students undertaking one of UTS’s newest offerings, the Master of Mathematics for Secondary Education, certainly do! In alignment with the UTS 2027 Learning for a Lifetime strategy, this program is designed to retrain primary and secondary school teachers in teaching secondary mathematics.
The Postgraduate Learning Design (PGLD) team and the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences recently collaborated to create a range of subjects including Algebra and Calculus 1. Designing and delivering content for these subjects has presented unique challenges, from both a learning design and a technical perspective. Let’s look at some of the challenges we’ve encountered, and how we addressed them.
Challenge 1 – Transcribing mathematical equations
You can insert accessible equations in Canvas using LaTeX. But transcribing mathematical equations into LaTeX is a laborious job even for an experienced coder. To expedite this process, we trialed a tool called MathPix Snip which uses Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to convert images of mathematical equations into LaTeX and MathML format for use in Canvas.
MathPix Snip has a mobile and desktop app for photos and screenshots however it also converts PDF, jpg, png, svg and docx. We’ve even tested it on handwritten formulae and we cannot fault its conversion success rate. The rare discrepancy can be easily fixed using the equation edit function.
The conversions don’t stop there! Mathpix Snip can also be used to convert arrays into graphs, simplify integrals, create chemical diagrams from chemical equations, and to capture complex tables in html.
Mathpix Snip has increased our ability to develop mathematics content in Canvas by 400% and is now an integral tool for the PGLD team. The free version allows up to 50 ‘snips’ so if you work with mathematics equations, give it a try today!
Challenge 2 – LaTeX compatibility
Both subjects are aimed at giving students a conceptual understanding and the confidence to teach mathematics. One of the ways we do this is by asking students to regularly complete ‘Knowledge check’ activities. These were comprised of class discussions and practice problems which gave students the opportunity to apply their knowledge and get feedback on their level of understanding.
A major hurdle we encountered when creating these activities was that very few programs that integrate with Canvas can read the mathematical languages LaTeX and MathML. After weeks of research and experimenting with various programs, we discovered a way to script our equations so that H5P could read them. As you can see below, we are now able to integrate quite complex equations into H5P, in both the question and answer fields.
Finding a way to incorporate LaTeX code into H5P means that we can now create content and assessment activities that are more active, engaging, and accessible for the learner. It also allows us to create complex learning sequences and test understanding on a single Canvas page.
Challenge 3 – Making mathematics engaging
There is no getting past the fact that many of us have had a negative experience learning mathematics. One reason is because mathematics is often separated from its real-world applications, leaving students without sufficient motivation or inspiration to learn. One of the challenges we faced was finding a way to make mathematics fun and engaging without sacrificing the depth of the content.
We achieved this by blending direct instruction and hands-on learning, complimented by engaging visual elements and case studies. These subjects also feature:
- Engaging visuals and interactive elements that draw student’s attention and aid in understanding key concepts
- ‘Sticky notes’ containing interesting facts positioned throughout the course to create moments of novelty and aid in memory recall
- Problem-based learning sequences whereby students are introduced to a new concept and worked examples before being asked to apply their knowledge in a new setting
- Real-world case studies that run throughout each subject which demonstrate the relevance and applicability of the content
- Weekly Zoom workshops facilitated by the academic to create a sense of community and promote student interaction and collaboration
Although working on both subjects has presented us with several challenges, it has allowed us to find new ways to support the teaching and learning of mathematics, along with other technical degrees in the faculties of engineering, science and information technology.