Navigating through Math

By Sean Cavanagh — June 11, 2008 1 min read
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A couple years ago, I took a trip to Canton, Ohio, home to the illustrious Pro Football Hall of Fame, and home to a group of schools that were using classroom technology in an attempt to boost student performance in math.

Teachers in several Canton schools had set up a system called TI-Navigator, in combination with graphing calculators, both designed by Texas Instruments. The system worked like this:

A math teacher would give a problem to students, who would type answers (such as plotting points on a graph) into their calculators. Their calculators were connected by cords to “hubs,” which dangled from a few points in the classroom and which sent signals wirelessly back to the teacher’s computer. The teacher then received instant information on how many students -- say, two out of 20, or 18 out of 20 -- had the correct answer. Teachers could then adjust their lessons on the fly, focusing on the problems or concepts that gave students the most trouble.

You sometimes hear these programs referred to as “personal response” or “audience response” systems.

This setup might have made the class look a bit like a hospital ward (with IVs hanging everywhere), but for Canton officials, it was just the right medicine. They saw their students math scores’ rise, in some cases dramatically, after using the systems.

But the question remained: Would this technology work as effectively in other math classrooms, among different groups of students?

Now, research by Douglas Owens of Ohio State University suggests the answer is a qualified yes.

Owens is the principal investigator on a four-year, federally funded project that examines the impact of TI Navigator and graphing calculators in math classes. The project, using a research method known as a randomized control trial, is looking at the performance of 1,800 students and 127 teachers from 28 states.

He found that students’ math performance, after one year, rose by about 2 points on a 37-point test. It’s possible that those gains will increase, as students and teachers become more familiar with the technology, Owens told me, after discussing his research at a conference on June 11 in Washington. The was hosted by the federal Institute of Education Sciences, which is supporting his study.

Read more about his research here

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.