GeoGebra in the Secondary Mathematics Classroom 1

GeoGebra in the Secondary Mathematics Classroom: A Literature Review Dan Schellenberg February, 2009

GeoGebra in the Secondary Mathematics Classroom 2 GeoGebra in the Secondary Mathematics Classroom GeoGebra is open source software that combines dynamic geometry software, computer algebra system and spreadsheet functionality. This paper explores the current literature on each of these topics in an attempt to determine the advantages and barriers to using GeoGebra to enhance instruction in a secondary mathematics classroom. The paper begins with an explanation of why technology is seen as an important part of mathematics teaching and learning. This is followed by a description of the types of technologies often used in mathematics teaching and learning. Specific attention is given to dynamic geometry software, computer algebra systems and spreadsheets. Opportunities and precautions are identified for each category of software. Finally, the important characteristics of GeoGebra itself are examined. Technology in Mathematics Education – Why Bother? Technology plays an important part in the learning of mathematics. Students must become familiar with the technological tools utilized in mathematics, whether that be an abacus or a graphing calculator. Modern technology allows for easier exploration of mathematics than was previously possible. “The speed of computers and calculators enables students to produce many examples when exploring mathematical problems. This supports the observation of patterns, and the making and justification of generalizations” (British Education Communication Technology Agency, 2004, p. 1). According to the National Council of Mathematics Teachers position statement regarding technology, appropriate use of technology allows more students access to mathematical concepts (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 2008). A motivating factor for increasing the accessibility of mathematics is that mathematics knowledge has become as an important part of critical citizenship (Adler, Ball, Krainer, Lin, & Novotna, 2005, p. 360). To help students gain the skills that will be useful as citizens, students must

GeoGebra in the Secondary Mathematics Classroom 3 have the opportunity to use the same technology that is available outside the walls of their classrooms. (Haapasalo, 2007, p. 9). Using the same technology that is available outside the classroom allows students to transfer their knowledge into the world as they move beyond formal education. Some teachers and school systems remain wary of integrating technology into mathematics education. The three most common reasons are curriculum scope (convincing teachers the benefits are worth the change), availability of the technology (open computer labs, for example) and accessibility of the programs (technology that is easy enough to learn that the focus remains on the math) (Little, 2008, p. 49). Equipment failure can also be a major roadblock to the adoption of technology, as teachers will not commit to using something they cannot rely on in their daily teaching (Cuban, Kirkpatrick, & Peck, 2001, p. 829). The views of the mathematics teacher greatly influence whether and how technology will be incorporated into the classroom. According to a recent study, middle-aged and more experienced teachers were more likely to integrate technology than their younger counterparts, despite having a more negative attitude regarding technology (Hung & Hsu, 2007, p. 233). This suggests that familiarity with technology might not correlate to increased technology use in the classroom. A base level of technical skill is required, however, as a previous study notes that “effective teachers who use ICT [information and communications technology] are teachers who are confident with ICT” (Bramald, Miller, & Higgins, 2000, p. 5). Types of Technology Used in Mathematics Education The technology used in mathematics teaching and learning can be categorized into two major types, virtual manipulatives and general software tools (Preiner, 2008, p. 26). A virtual manipulative can be defined as “an interactive, Web-based visual representation of a

GeoGebra in the Secondary Mathematics Classroom 4 dynamic object that presents opportunities for constructing mathematical knowledge” (Moyer, Bolyard, & Spikell, 2002). Virtual manipulatives allow a student to interact with the mathematical situation without any additional skills or training required, though the student’s exploration is limited by the design of the virtual manipulative. By contrast, general software tools allow the student to explore any number of mathematical concepts, but require some training to use. A variety of general software tools are used in mathematics, including dynamic geometry software, computer algebra systems and spreadsheets. Barzel defines general software tools as “tools [that] can be used for a wide set of tasks and be considered to be general purpose tools that are not useful for only a limited number of specific tasks – that is the character and as well the most important benefit of general tools” (2007, p. 81). The remainder of this literature review will be spent on examining the research on dynamic geometry software, computer algebra software and spreadsheets. These are the types of software that GeoGebra seeks to integrate into one coherent tool. Dynamic Geometry Software Dynamic Geometry Software (DGS) is the most easily adopted form of general software tools, as it was explicitly designed for classroom use (Ruthven, 2008, p. 1). DGS is controlled primarily with the mouse, allowing the basic functionality to be easily learned. Using DGS, teachers and students are able to quickly and accurately explore geometrical figures, changing their dimensions while maintaining the mathematical relationships in the figure. For example, a figure could be drawn showing a perpendicular bisector of a line segment. As the line segment is dragged, changing its position and length, the perpendicular bisector automatically moves as well. The important features of DGS are listed by KokolVoljic as:

GeoGebra in the Secondary Mathematics Classroom 5 - a dynamic modeling of the traditional paper and pencil (blackboard and chalk) teaching environment through the drag mode an option to condense a sequence of commands to form a "new command", a macro an option to visualize the paths of the movements of geometrical objects, a locus (2007, p. 56)

Figure 1. Screenshot of dynamic geometry software Geometer’s Sketchpad.

DGS has the ability to profoundly change the way we teach proof, one of the most crucial ideas in mathematics. DGS allows students to instantly create and test their conjectures, allowing them the freedom to explore geometry and discover patterns. Although students can easily find patterns using DGS, researchers are advising users of DGS to use exploration merely as the foundation for deductive proof, since some teachers have begun to use exploration as a replacement for proof (Hanna, 2000, p. 14). Teachers’ tendency to replace formal proof with dynamic exploration is seen as a reaction to improper use of formal proof, such as only proving things students are already convinced is true (Hoyles & Jones, 1998, p. 122).

GeoGebra in the Secondary Mathematics Classroom 6 Although the power and flexibility of DGS is enticing, we must understand and acknowledge that changing the medium of teaching geometry will cause important changes in the way students construct meaning about geometry. Jones lists a number of specific areas in which DGS has a mediational impact, including: The students’ understanding that the order in which objects were created leads to a hierarchy of functional dependency within a figure. The constraint of robustness of a figure under drag becoming linked with using points of intersection to try to hold the figure together. The ‘dynamic’ nature of the software influencing the form of explanation given by the students. (Jones, 2000, p. 80) The role of the teacher is shifted when DGS is utilized in the classroom, but the teacher’s role remains critically important; the teacher’s guidance is crucial as the student tries to construct meaning from the explorations they are involved in. The artefact [DGS] is exploited by a double use, with respect to which it functions as semiotic mediator. On the one hand, meanings emerge from the activity – the learner uses the artefact in actions aimed at accomplishing a certain task; on the other hand, the teacher uses the artefact to direct the development of meanings that are mathematically consistent. (Mariotti, 2000, p. 37) There are pitfalls inherent with free exploration in DGS, such as students inadvertently creating a special case by dragging a generic drawing (Sinclair, 2003, p. 291). This could lead students to incorrect assumptions about mathematical figures, such as thinking that the Pythagorean theorem holds for all triangles, when in fact it is only true with right triangles. While these pitfalls should not stop us from using DGS, we must be aware of them as we begin to incorporate the use of DGS in our classrooms.

GeoGebra in the Secondary Mathematics Classroom 7 Computer Algebra System Another type of general software being used in mathematics education is a Computer Algebra System (CAS). A CAS can be defined as “a piece of software which is capable of working symbolically as well as numerically. In principle it is a program which does on a computer the manipulation that has traditionally been done with pencil and paper” (Lawson, 1997, p. 228). CAS are primarily controlled by the keyboard through textual and numerical input. It is important to note that CAS was created for use by practicing mathematicians, not for mathematics education (Ruthven, 2008, p. 1). This has caused slower adoption of CAS into the classroom, and teachers and researchers are still attempting to come to terms with the effects of using CAS in the classroom. Much of the discussion on CAS in the classroom revolves around what portions of the curriculum students need to know how to do by hand, and what portions they can off-load to a computer. The answers to these questions greatly influence what is taught, and how it is assessed.

Figure 2. Screenshot of factoring with the computer algebra system Mathematica.

Supporters of CAS in education emphasize the ability of students to access higher level concepts, without having to drudge through tedious algebraic manipulations (Atiyah, Monaghan, & Pierce, 2004, p. 157). Access to these higher-level concepts allows students to leave contrived problems behind, giving them a chance to explore real world situations

GeoGebra in the Secondary Mathematics Classroom 8 instead (Heid & M. T. Edwards, 2001, p. 128). Leigh-Lancaster as gives a fairly comprehensive list of possible benefits resulting from the use of CAS, including the possibility for improved teaching of traditional mathematical topics opportunities for new selection and organization of mathematical topics access to important mathematical ideas that have previously been to difficult to teach effectively a vehicle for mathematical discovery long and complex calculations can be carried out by the technology, enabling students to concentrate on the conceptual aspects of mathematics the technology provides immediate feedback so that students can independently monitor and verify their ideas the need to express mathematical ideas in a form understood by the technology helps students to clarify their mathematical thinking situations and problems can be modeled in more complex and realistic ways (2003, p. 5) Despite the perceived benefits of CAS, some researchers find fault with the underlying assumption that concepts and skills can be separated. While this does not necessarily lead them to reject the notion of using CAS in the classroom, it does change the way in which CAS is used. The French researcher Lagrange is among the leading voices in this camp. For Lagrange, manual skills (or more generally, techniques) are required for the student to construct meaning. In my own experiences as a classroom teacher, I have found that if students are shown a technological solution before having a chance to practice a technique by hand, they may not ever truly understand the nature of what the technology is doing. For example, if a student is taught to multiply matrices using a graphing calculator, they may be very proficient at typing the numbers into the calculator, but may have no idea

GeoGebra in the Secondary Mathematics Classroom 9 about how to interpret the elements of the resulting matrix. I have found it to be much more effective to introduce matrix multiplication by guiding the students through a word problem and having the students define matrix multiplication themselves. In the words of Lagrange, At certain moments a technique can take the form of a skill. This is particularly the case when a certain ‘routinisation’ is necessary… It is certain that the availability of new instruments reduces the urgency of this routinisation… But techniques must not be considered only in their routinised form. The work of constituting techniques in response to tasks, and of theoretical elaboration on the problems posed by these techniques remains fundamental to learning. A more pragmatic concern with the use of CAS in the classroom is that students may be confused by the results given by the CAS (Artigue, 2002, p. 265). For example, when a secondary mathematics student is taught to factor a difference of cubes, they are taught a rigid algorithm, which will result in all students achieving the same answer. The CAS may or may not represent the factored form of the expression in the same manner the student is used to seeing. A student working by hand would factor as follows:
3 (8x - 27)

= (2x - 3)(4 x 2 + 12x + 9) When the CAS feature of GeoGebra performs this factorization, the result is:
3 (8x - 27)

= (12x + 8x 2 + 18)( x - 3/2) Although these expressions are in fact equivalent, recognizing that fact may not be trivial for a student without the ability to perform such tasks mentally or by hand. This sort of situation can lead to students being unable to determine if the answers given by the CAS are reasonable (Waits & Demana, 1998).

GeoGebra in the Secondary Mathematics Classroom 10 The power of CAS will fundamentally change mathematics learning and assessment. “Whereas graphics calculators, for many teachers, slotted easily into the curriculum and enhanced their teaching with little threat, CAS demands a more thorough response” (Kendal, Stacey, & Pierce, 2005, p. 105). Paper and pencil algorithms (techniques, in the terminology of Lagrange) must be examined individually to determine if they contribute understanding for the student. Algorithms that do not contribute to a student’s understanding should be performed with technology (Waits & Demana, 1998). Spreadsheets Another type of general mathematics software is the spreadsheet. A spreadsheet is simply an array of rows and columns that allow calculations to be quickly performed. More recently, “the basic paradigm of an array of rows-and-columns with automatic update and display of results has been extended with libraries of mathematical and statistical functions [and] versatile graphing and charting facilities” (Baker & Sugden, 2003, p. 19). This extension of the functionality of spreadsheets has allowed spreadsheets to become useful when teaching a variety of mathematical topics.

Figure 3. Screenshot of spreadsheet software Microsoft Excel.

Spreadsheets are useful tools for exploring a large range of mathematical topics. One of the simplest uses of the spreadsheet at a secondary level occurs when teaching statistics.

GeoGebra in the Secondary Mathematics Classroom 11 Although spreadsheets may not be suited to deal with in-depth mathematical statistics, they can be very useful for introductory level statistics, as would be seen in a secondary mathematics curriculum (Nash, 2008, p. 4603). Performing simple calculations on statistical data becomes a trivial with a spreadsheet. Spreadsheets can also be used in teaching such diverse mathematical topics as inequalities (Abramovich, 2005), limits in calculus (Abramovich & Levin, 1994) and the concept of infinity (Abramovich & Norton, 2000). Studies have shown increased student understanding of statistical graphs as a result of using spreadsheet explorations in statistics (Wu & YoongWong, 2007). As the use of spreadsheets in the classroom becomes more complex, however, new issues arise. Unless they are taught otherwise, students tend to create spreadsheets that are not reliable when cell values are changed. Students must be taught how to create spreadsheets that can solve general problems, instead of only being useful for only one specific case (Niess, 2006, p. 199). GeoGebra’s Defining Features GeoGebra is software that attempts to combine DGS, CAS and spreadsheets into one application. “On the one hand, GeoGebra is a dynamic geometry system in which you work with points, vectors, segments, lines, and conic sections. On the other hand, equations and coordinates can be entered directly” (Sangwin, 2007, p. 36). Every object in GeoGebra has a representation in both the algebra window, as well as the geometry window. The user can adjust the value of the object through either representation, allowing them to either drag the geometric figure using the mouse, or change the symbolic representation using the keyboard. While GeoGebra attempts to combine aspects of DGS, CAS and spreadsheets, small annoyances reveal that this combination is done imperfectly. One such annoyance is the need to learn arcane syntax in order to show dynamic text or calculations when using the DGS feature of the software. For example, to create dynamic text that updates as the location of a

GeoGebra in the Secondary Mathematics Classroom 12 point changes, one would have to enter something like ”a = ” + a + ”cm”. By contrast, the ease of use of Geometer’s Sketchpad (another popular DGS) when doing the same task allows students to show dynamic calculations without having to learn any syntax at all. Some of these annoyances may be a result of GeoGebra still being relatively new software, having been initially created by Markus Hohenwarter in 2001 as part of his Master’s thesis in mathematics education (Preiner, 2008, p. 36).

Figure 4. Screenshot of finding the area of a triangle with GeoGebra.

The CAS abilities of GeoGebra are currently quite limited, though in the pre-release version of GeoGebra the CAS aspects of the software have been dramatically enhanced. In a recent post to the GeoGebra CAS mailing list, Markus Hohenwarter explained that development version (pre-release version) of GeoGebra now includes a full featured CAS system by incorporating an open source CAS into GeoGebra (M. Hohenwarter, 2008).

GeoGebra in the Secondary Mathematics Classroom 13 The development version of GeoGebra also incorporates spreadsheet functionality, though certain limitations exist. Currently, only 100 rows of data can be viewed in the spreadsheet mode. Spreadsheet cell ranges must be typed when performing calculations, not selected with the mouse. For example, one can type Mean[A1:A9], but you cannot type Mean[] and then highlight which cells you want to calculate the median of. Many advanced features of popular spreadsheet applications such as Excel are not available in GeoGebra, though most functions that would be used at a high school level are already available. GeoGebra is an open source application, which gives GeoGebra both moral and pragmatic benefits over proprietary software. GeoGebra is freely available to schools and students, eliminating the cost factor for schools with limited budgets. Students are able to use the application at home on their private computers with no site licensing concerns (M. Hohenwarter, J. Hohenwarter, Kreis, & Lavicza, 2008, p. 2). Markus Hohenwarter, the creator of GeoGebra, has stated the reason GeoGebra is released as a free, open source application is that he believes education should be free (Edwards & Jones, 2006). A side benefit of being open source is that a development community has grown around the project, which has allowed GeoGebra to be translated into many languages (39 different languages as of GeoGebra 3.0 in March 2008), making it accessible to many more students and educators. GeoGebra is written in Java, which allows it to run on virtually any platform (Mac, Windows, Linux). Being written in Java also allows GeoGebra to easily export files as dynamic webpages. This allows for simple creation of online math explorations, often called math applets. The ease with which GeoGebra sketches can be shared online has lead to a community of teachers using GeoGebra freely sharing their resources with one another online at While an online wiki of resources is useful for early adopters of GeoGebra, the majority of teachers will not begin using GeoGebra on the basis of resources being available

GeoGebra in the Secondary Mathematics Classroom 14 online. Simply providing technology to teachers does not lead to successful integration of that technology in their teaching (Cuban et al., 2001). To address this concern, an International GeoGebra Institute has been created, with the purpose of providing structured training and support to teachers interested in using GeoGebra (M. Hohenwarter & Lavicza, 2007). Various chapters have been set up across the world, allowing those interested in learning GeoGebra to have local support. Conclusion Incorporating technology into mathematics teaching and learning allows greater access to mathematical concepts. General mathematics software allows students to explore any number of mathematical situations, but require students to learn the software first. Dynamic Geometry Software is quite easy to use, allowing students and teachers to test conjectures by exploring geometrical figures. The manner in which proof is taught in mathematics has been greatly affected by the introduction of DGS to the classroom. Computer Algebra Systems are able to perform much of the symbolic manipulation that students do by hand. Educators must determine which algorithms can be delegated to a CAS and which must be done by hand. Spreadsheets are particularly useful when teaching statistics, but can also be used to teach a wider variety of mathematical topics. GeoGebra combines DGS and CAS into one application (development/future versions also include a spreadsheet). GeoGebra is open source software, which allows anyone to download the software and use it for free. As a Java application, it can run on any platform. To help teachers learn how to incorporate GeoGebra into their classrooms, an International GeoGebra Institute has been created to provide structured training and support.

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