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IU researchers create math learning software to help students, educators

May 11, 2017

Description of the following video:


[Words Appear: David Landy, Assistant professor and co-founder of Graspable Math]

David speaks: Out in the world if you’re a kid learning, you really like to learn by playing with stuff, right? We, like, throw balls around when we’re toddlers, we catch things, we pour sand back from one bucket to another. We learn how sand works. But in algebra we expect students to play with the algebraic representations and remember all the rules that instantiate the world. So Graspable Math is a way to let the algebra respond to us, to let us play with the algebra.

[Words Appear: Erik Weitnauer, Research associate and co-founder of Graspable Math]

Erik speaks: Graspable Math turns algebra into something like a real thing you can interact with. And that’s something fantastic for students which can actually now go and explore algebra.

David speaks: Graspable Math, for the student and the teacher, is a way to pick up the symbols and move fluidly.

Erik speaks: So we can see Graspable Math being used as a teacher presentation tool where a teacher is standing in front of a smart board or a projector and explaining things more clearly to the classroom.

David speaks: The sidebar that lets you pull in equations from Wikipedia or a lot of other sites.

Erik speaks: A homework tool where students get immediate step-by-step feedback.

David speaks: Graspable Math came specifically out of a Department of Education-funded project to develop interventions that would help students see the dynamic properties of algebra. See this dynamic algebra the way that experts do. And we’re working with schools in Massachusetts, in Virginia, in Indianapolis to study how kids learn, and our commitment is to make sure that it’s always free for teachers and students.

Erik speaks: So the state of the art in algebra assessments is that you give students a problem and then they type in the final answer.

David speaks: Often we say, okay, well the student got the problem, check.

Erik speaks: But they’re still doing all their algebra with pencil and paper.

David speaks: What we can get is a very different insight into how students are succeeding.

Erik speaks: In Graspable Math, students really trigger each algebraic step by a gesture. They really control how they go through a derivation. And Graspable Math will record all of these steps.

David speaks: In a usual experimental context, all you get is the answer the student gives, or you have to hand code all the steps that they did. But we get everything the student did, and everything the student tried to do and failed. And so we can find out what kinds of things students think are a good idea as they’re struggling to learn these algebraic concepts.

Erik speaks: The student can look at them, the teacher can look at the steps, you can compare different ways of solving a problem.

David speaks: And that gives us, I think, a unique access to misconceptions students have, and the struggles that students have, and then just the ways that they succeed.

Erik speaks: There’s certain types of mistakes you can still make in the system, which are the strategic mistakes, which are going off in the wrong direction, without breaking the rules of math. These kind of mistakes are incredibly important for learning, and you can still make them in our system.

David speaks: One way that it gets used is for research, and then the other place it gets used is by teachers who just find it.

Erik speaks: It ensures that you play by the rules and creates this safe space.

David speaks: Graspable Math helps support whatever algebra a teacher’s teaching.


[Words appear: Graspable Math has received support from the Johnson Center for Innovation and Translational Research at IU Bloomington, the IU Office of the Vice Provost for Research and the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education (Grant R305A110060). The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent views of the Institute or U.S. Department of Education. Erin Ottmar of Worcester Polytechnic Institute is also a co-founder of Graspable Math.]

[Video: The Indiana University trident appears]

[Words appear: Indiana University]

[Words appear: Fulfilling the Promise]

[End of transcript]

With the rise of the online text, e-readers and tablets, there has been a revolution in how people consume written information. The way most people write math, however, hasn’t changed in centuries.

It was this realization that inspired Indiana University’s David Landy to create Graspable Math – software that allows users to “touch” and manipulate numbers on a screen. The result is a system that lets students learn mathematical concepts by “playing” with numbers – opening the door to grasping concepts before mastering rules of notation.

“Graspable Math is a way to let algebra respond to us,” said Landy, co-founder of Graspable Math and an assistant professor in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. “For the student and the teacher, [it’s] a way to ‘pick up’ the numbers and move fluidly.”

Originally created as a research tool to advance research on math learning under a grant from the Department of Education, Graspable Math has expanded through support from the IU Office of the Vice Provost for Research and the Johnson Center for Innovation and Translational Research at IU Bloomington. The IU Research and Technology Corp. has also offered the researchers a software license agreement to help commercialize the technology.

The software is already being used by educators across the country, including groups in Massachusetts, Virginia and the IUPUI Math Assistance Center. Others have found the software online, including over 20,000 people who have downloaded the software as a Chrome web browser plug-in that lets users manipulate equations from the web.

Others will soon learn more about Graspable Math when IU’s video on the project is featured on the National Science Foundation’s “STEM for All” video showcase. The NSF project, which launches May 15, highlights federally funded research that increases access to science, technology, engineering and math. Members of the public will be invited to vote for their favorite videos through May 22.

Other co-founders of Graspable Math are Erik Weitnauer, a postdoctoral researcher at IU, and Erin Ottmar, assistant professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.


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