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News Release 06-170

Online Journal Combines Teaching Math and Studying How Students Learn

Teacher-researchers share ideas and tools to improve classroom learning

Teacher-researchers study how students think intuitively about difficult mathematics problems.

Teacher-researchers study how students think intuitively about difficult mathematics problems.


December 11, 2006

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

When instructors at Bronx-area community colleges applied for a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to study how students think about fundamental concepts of calculus, they hoped to gain a better understanding of how college students learn mathematics. During the 4-year project, the teacher-researchers integrated ongoing research theories with classroom teaching. As a result, their project has evolved into a tool for helping students reason their way through complex calculus.

The researchers found that when students are actively engaged in the learning process, they are more likely to sort out the logic behind mathematical problems. A give-and-take method allows the students to voice their fears about the subject, express misconceptions, and participate in open discussions to reach a solution. Using an online, peer-reviewed teaching-research journal, the teacher-researchers give updates on their progress and share best practices and procedures. They invite other mathematics teachers and instructors to document their experiences and successes.

"The journal project contributes to NSF's goal to create an online network of learning environments and resources for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education at all levels," said Lee L. Zia, program director for NSF's Division of Undergraduate Education. "Through a relatively easy mechanism to share best practices with the local community, the journal stimulates and supports research on learning, which is one of NSF's objectives."

"The biggest strength of our project is that it ensures that mathematics is accessible to all students," said Bronislaw Czarnocha, principal investigator at Hostos Community College of the City University of New York. "We focus on understanding how students think intuitively about calculus. We then design a method of instruction that develops their mathematical thinking to their maximum potential. This process offers our students, many of whom juggle families and jobs, the chance to establish fundamentals of mathematical thinking andto excel in a difficult mathematics course."

One example of an online journal entry from a teacher recommends adapting teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) strategies because both math and ESL teachers share the common challenge of teaching students to speak and write using an unfamiliar language. The journal contributor recommends this tactic when English is the math student's second language and suggests that math teachers introduce math vocabulary and definitions, then layer and repeat words and concepts until students grow familiar with them.

Another entry suggests activities to help translate research results into practice.For example, teachers might more effectively adapt their teaching style when trends show differences in how girls and boys learn.

"Our intent with the journal is to create a vibrant, supportive community," said Vrunda Prabhu, co-principal investigator, who teaches mathematics at the Bronx Community College of the City University of New York. "The journal offers teaching-research tools to deal with the complex problems of our multicultural, multilingual classrooms."

-NSF-

Media Contacts
Dana Topousis, National Science Foundation, (703) 292-7750, email: dtopousi@nsf.gov

Principal Investigators
Vrunda Prabhu, Bronx Community College of the City University of New York, (267) 980-1650, email: vrunda.prabhu@bcc.cuny.edu

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2020 budget of $8.3 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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