Engineering students’ views of computer algebra systems

Sabita D’Souza, Leigh Wood, Peter Petocz


Some educators are working towards changing the content of the mathematics curriculum and the ways in which it is taught in order to best prepare students for the ‘real world’ by moving from a focus on arithmetic and computational skills toward a curriculum that develops students’ abilities to think, reason, and communicate mathematically (Petocz and Reid 2005; Burton 2004). The goal is to help students construct their conceptual understanding of mathematics, not just memorise facts and rules. Likewise, the teaching of mathematics is changing in order to meet these new goals. Instead of teaching by demonstration, a blend of instructional methodologies is recommended that include individual and group work and direct instruction. The aim is to provide frequent opportunities for students to explore and solve problems, individually and with others, and to develop their mathematical skills in the context of this exploration (Stacey, Kendal and Pierce 2002). Lecturers are facilitators of learning, guiding students’ explorations, asking questions that extend their thinking, and encouraging students to communicate their thinking. One of the catalysts for change is the widespread and increasing use of computer algebra systems by professional mathematicians and in teaching and learning mathematics.

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