Talking about Maths - 1

Stage: 2, 3, 4 and 5
Article by Graeme Brown

Catching the Talk

When presenting mathematics to others, the spoken word can bring out the meaning of the images more strongly than text alone. The viewer uses their ears as well as their eyes - that extra channel can mean richer communication.

This article describes one way to generate some good talk to use in a PowerPoint Presentation. It starts by getting a group of students around a table and letting some digital recording software record everything (absolutely everything) that gets said.

I used a program called Audacity to do this and this, and the following article tells you what I did.

You can use the free download Audacity to capture audio for yourself or for use with children talking about their mathematics. Click here for more about Audacity.

The important thing for the students, and the potential audience, is that I could play everything back later and just lift out the good bits one at a time into a second (Audacity) file. Then make that second track into an MP3 file you attach to a slide in PowerPoint.

I often use PowerPoint to create a sequence of slides. Each slide contains images and text with the purpose of communicating an idea to the viewer. Adding an audio file to each slide, which plays automatically, can provide a very valuable commentary.

Now to get people talking. Ask questions like :

  • What is the problem, challenge or game all about?
  • How do you play? What might you try?
  • What are the rules? What do you know and what are you trying to find?

The more we all feel like we are asking real questions and giving real answers the more natural the talk will sound.

Add specific examples not just general explanation. So maybe play an actual round of a game or work through a problem with particular numbers.

This talk can be connected up with the images you are giving your viewer to look at while they listen to your commentary.

There are lots of ways to get good images but screen shots are often really helpful.

Use the Print Screen button on the keyboard, then paste into Paint for example. If you save the file as a jpeg your presentationas these files are not too large and do not slow things down as much as other types of image files.

Maybe have the numbers in your screen shot matching with the example numbers you use when you talk.

For example, I made this image to illustrate the Haitch puzzle by putting the numbers into Excel, making the cells look good then grabbing the image with the Print Screen button and trimming it to size in Paint.

After the basics have been well explained. Go on to ask each other about strategies for winning the games or solving the problems and why they work. Ask each other too how they went about understanding the problem or game.

And don't forget "extension" thinking. The games are fun and maths problems are interesting but one reason for inventing particular games or posing particular problems is to get more windows on the big structure. "Structure" means how things relate together or work. So be ready to pose your own fresh problems and invent variations to the games.

Enjoy working hard to get good at communicating your mathematical ideas - you'll get a lot of satisfaction from it and give a lot of pleasure to others.

More about getting and using Audacity here.