THE MATH TOOLS PROJECT

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Need for Work

This is a crucial moment to begin this project. Technology tools should be playing an important role in student learning in mathematics. Developing these tools is a growth area, with many new tools on the way (see below), yet it's difficult for teachers to find what they need, to know if it's any good, to coordinate across technologies and platforms, and to learn how to teach with it. Through the Math Tools Project, the Math Forum and its partners will develop a digital library community where K-Calculus teachers and tool developers can begin to address these problems.

It is a time of great vigor and diversity in the production of technological tools for teaching mathematics. The landscape for computers has expanded from math education software titles to small, interactive, web-based computer programs written in JavaScript, Java, and Flash, hereafter referred to collectively as mathlets. Similarly, while graphing calculators continue to improve in power and scope, many other handheld devices are poised to follow their lead, be they personal digital assistants (PDAs) such as Palm Pilot and Visor or WIN CE products manufactured by Toshiba, Casio, Sharp, and Brainium. The burgeoning industry of technological tools poses many opportunitiesand many decisionsfor math students, teachers, administrators, and parents.

The Math Tools Project will address problems faced by teachers utilizing mathematics teaching tools, by the students who use them, by the programmers who develop them, by the parents who would support their children, and by school administrators who must make choices.

  1. No "smart" repository of technology tools exists. Tools are hard to find because they are scattered across isolated repositories. Even when they do locate them, teachers often face prohibitive software licensing or professional training.
  2. It's not easy to gauge the quality of a technology tool. Existing digital libraries with mathematics content target colleges and universities, where the incentive of academic references drives publication and peer review. This, coupled with high standards, has mostly resulted in small collections of high quality material for post-secondary education. Tools for pre-college classrooms do not enjoy such attention and, consequently, lack reliable reviews, user comments, and ratings.
  3. It's hard to identify appropriate tools for classroom implementation. Because teachers fail to find tools, it is difficult to compare their pedagogical value, fit to curriculum, and ease of use.
  4. Technical problems abound for teachers, students, and developers alike. The multiplicity of software tools and technology platforms available presents a cacophonous barrier to both the primary and secondary teaching communities. Further, there is no process for integrating one tool collection with another, or integrating access across tool collections. Some leaders are calling for networked handheld devices instead of computers for schools creating new challenges for teachers and administrators.
  5. Poor feedback mechanisms between the developers who produce tools and the teachers who need and implement them are the norm, not the exception. When left to their own devices, professional developers can produce tools unsuitable for student learning. Our own experience and that of others strongly indicate that developers benefit greatly when teachers contribute to the design process from the outset.
  6. The research literature that might guide developers and teachers is not easy to find or search. While much is being written about the use of new technology tools and the impacts they have on student learning, there is no convenient single resource available to teachers and developers
  7. Technology tool users often lack experienced colleagues to help them expand their horizons. From individuals to school systems, would-be purchasers do not have a comprehensive collection to visit to obtain some perspective of their choices of hardware or software. For example, while graphing calculators are now programmable and good material exists, usage usually remains limited to the programs that arrive on the device. Teachers need a pedagogical framework to think of the value of graphing calculators, as they do with the learning tool nature of the machine.

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