THE eMATH PROJECT

Purpose and Goals

The eMath Project is both a research study and an instructional intervention, directed Arthur B. Powell, Department of Urban Education, Rutgers University, Newark (see Bairral, Powell, and dos Santos, 2007; Powell and Lai, in press). As a pedagogical project, eMath involves diverse high school students in developing their mathematical reasoning through online collaboration. The research portion of eMath aims to understand the following:

  1. How students use online technology to collaborate synchronously and asynchronously to solve open-ended but well-designed mathematical problems that are cognitively demanding and that promote the construction of problem-solving schema?
  2. What resulting mathematical ideas, heuristics, and reasoning do students develop?

To accomplish these aims, the study has the following five objectives: (1) create online conditions in an informal learning environment that elicits mathematical reasoning and the building of convincing arguments; (2) trace the development of that reasoning by studying patterns of discourse that emerge as students work online on mathematical tasks; (3) document and study the nature of student-to-student online communication as they make sense of each other’s ideas and reasoning; (4) understand and evaluate the affordances and constraints that the computer and Internet tools we provide have on students’ use of different representations; and (5) create social, intellectual networks among students in urban, suburban, and rural communities, here and abroad. Students in the study are racially and ethnically diverse high school students from six different urban and suburban communities in the United States and Brazil with a mix of school districts with high- and low-socioeconomic status. In the US, high schools with which eMath has partnered or intends to do so include University High, Science Park High, East Side High, and West Side High, Newark, NJ; Rutgers Preparatory School, Somerset, NJ; and Long Branch High, Long Branch, NJ.

The tasks on which students are invited to work come from three areas of mathematics: (1) algebra–sequences and patterns, (2) combinatorics and probability, and (3) geometry. The tasks are challenging in the sense that students initially are not aware of procedural or algorithmic tools to solve the problems but are invited to develop tools in collaboration with their teammates through an online, problem-solving context. In addition, the tasks invite students within their teams to negotiate interpretations of the tasks, analyze heuristic options, and debate other aspects of their work as they coalesce toward a solution. Furthermore, by collaborating on the tasks, students engage in important cognitive and discursive aspects of mathematical problem solving such as employing heuristics, making connections, specializing, generalizing, explaining, reflecting, conjecturing, justifying, and posing new problems. Students work on the tasks in teams of four, sometimes all teammates are within their school and at other times half of their teammates are located at a remote school site. To support their collaboration, students have available a variety of computer tools to search for information, represent their ideas, and present their reasoning, including a multi-modal, online tool–VMT-Chat, developed by the Virtual Math Teams project of The Math Forum at Drexel University (see Stahl, in press, 2006).

References

Bairral, M. A., Powell, A. B., & dos Santos, G. T. (2007). Análise de interações de estudantes do ensino médio em chats [Analysis of high school students' online chat interaction]. Educação e Cultura Contemporânea [Education and Contemporary Culture], 4(7), 113-138.

Powell, A. B., & Lai, F. F. (in press). Inscription, mathematical ideas, and reasoning in VMT. In G. Stahl (Ed.), Studying virtual math teams. New York: Springer.

Stahl, G. (Ed.). (in press). Studying virtual math teams. New York: Springer.

Stahl, G. (2006). Supporting group cognition in an online chat community: A cognitive tool for small-group referencing in text chat. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 35(2), 103-122.