How SRI aims to improve middle school math skills
SRI researcher Phil Vahey is studying why many students flounder in math when they enter middle school. SmartPlanet visits the research organization and gets a tutorial on a more visual approach to learning math.
Sumi Das: If you've ever struggled with math, you might have wished you meet SRI's Senior Scientist, Bill Veghte as a student. Bill Veghte: 'Cause when the slope is the same, the runners have to be going the same speed. Sumi Das: For the last 17 years, Veghte has been researching why many students flounder in math when they enter the seventh and eighth grades. Bill Veghte: Middle school's a time at which students move from using numbers to count things and numbers in that way to being exposed to equations, symbolic forms and more complex use of numbers, students really find themselves memorizing and not understanding. Sumi Das: His answer to the problem? Kids perform better in mathematics when they engage with what he calls dynamic interactive mathematical representation. In other words, using visualization techniques and story telling to translate complex math problems into the real world. Bill Veghte: Instead of having to read a dense page of equations and formulas and explanations of it, they can directly manipulate graphs and move slopes up and down, hit a play button, see the results of it and it's a direct interaction with the mathematics. Sumi Das: Here's an example of middle school math. Bill Veghte: The students can try to figure out what does this graph represent, they know there's position on this axis and time on this axis Sumi Das: Veghte is showing the concept of slope and its relationship to speed. Bill Veghte: So when we hit play, we see that the runner starts to move across the screen and we also see that the graph fills in from gray to purple, as the runner moves. Students begin to see what we call slope as a very important part of describing this runner's motion and they don't have to inaudible know the vocabulary words of slope. They don't have to know delta y over delta x or m equals y2 minus y1 over x2 minus x1. What they know is that for every second, they're going five meters. Sumi Das: Since launching the program in 2007, Veghte's research has shown positive results in Texas, where they ran a controlled experiment. They're now piloting the program in schools in Florida and the U.K. Bill Veghte: So if y is equal to 3... Sumi Das: As we've seen lately, many educators are bringing new ideas into the classroom, whether it's Sal Kahn's assumed spelling video tutorials or Veghte's work on dynamic interactions. He believes it's imperative for students to start excelling in the areas known as STEM, science, technology, engineering and math because that's where the jobs will be in the future. Bill Veghte: In today's society, a lot of careers and positions really require at least a kind of algebraic thinking, a lot of working with graphs and equations. If we have students dropping out of mathematics at middle school, it really cuts off their progress in some of those important aspects of society today. Sumi Das: For Smart Planet, I'm Sumi Das.