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Teri Evangelista
Department of Educational Technology
University of Hawai i at Mnoa
Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S.A.
tmiguel@hawaii.edu
Abstract: Math classes can boring and distant to most students. The solution seems to be to pull away from traditional teaching practices and move towards learning styles. Every student does not learn in the same exact way. Enabling learners to approach something as complex as a mathematical word problem through graphing helps the learner process the data calculated, and integrating technology to ensure accuracy and a clearer picture of the data should increase student success. One of the major findings in this study was that students had never thought of using Excel to do math problems, yet many know its ability to store data and fewer realize that scatter plots can be created from the program. Teachers might consider tapping into this underused resource to deepen their learners understanding of using algebra in everyday life using Excel.
Introduction
Recall just about every math class you have ever taken. Remember the days when a teacher stood in front of the class with chalk in hand, writing mind-boggling numerical equations, formulas, and word problems on the board? From a students standpoint, this classroom experience recalls cramped hands while trying to simultaneously listen to a boring lecture, dictating notes from the lesson, profusely copying the board, and sorting out all this information before it is erased and the cycle starts again with the next set of examples. The learners of today come from a very different background, and being a passive learner is not getting our learners any closer to their understanding of doing math problems.
Traditional classrooms can no longer hold the attention of learners. As Gremli (1996) points out, students have different learning styles and a traditional teaching style will not serve all learners. It seems that with the variety and availability of modern technologies, students find it more difficult to sit, listen, and copy notes for an entire class period. Students in any given classroom are not exactly the same, so teaching them linearly will no longer work. By tapping into students multiple intelligences (MI), one mathematical problem can be approached in different ways: verbally, spatially, visually, and algebraically to name a few (Estes, 2004).
This study was framed by research on MI by approaching math visually, and enhancing it by increasing the accuracy in which numbers are displayed by utilizing the program Microsoft Excel. The participants in the study are current or former students of the Maui Community College (MCC) campus.
Literature Review
Innovative math teachers continuously look for ways to engage their learners. Picture a typical math class where the teacher is in the front of the room writing a novel of information on the whiteboard as the dull eyes of students look on, and even fewer hands move to copy the wealth of information. According to Smith and Geller (2004), it is not necessarily through any fault of their own, but traditional math teachers tend to teach strictly procedurally. This may have worked for some math learners, but data shows that students with or without disabilities still could not perform at an acceptable level (Smith & Geller, 2004). Smith and Geller go on to say that incorporating cognitive strategies would enable students to conquer problems versus being taught answers.
How can students be prepared to conquer problems? Students in any classroom are as diverse as books on a library shelf. In her article, Estes (2004) states that Emerging brain research validates what experiential educators have always knownstudents learn best through experiential and student-centered approaches (Understanding the Brain, 1995) (p. 151).
One way to focus on student-centered learning is through MI. MI helps the educator focus on the individual students strengths (Estes, 2004). Many programs offer such teaching strategies, Viadero (2004) notes that very few are research-based.
Project Design
The Dick and Carey Systems Approach Model (Dick, Carey, & Carey, 2005) was used to develop the module. The researcher wanted to approach solving word problems in a different way, but also wanted to integrate technology that was already available in the school and commonly available outside the school setting. Integrating technology was would not only allow learners to interpret a word problem in a visual manner, but would also aid in speed and accuracy when interpreting solutions to the given word problem.
It was determined by the researcher that students in general did not like dealing with word problems, so the module would remove students from their comfort zones and face their perceived fears. Since many students have in some form dealt with graphing, a better way to graph by using technology was sought. Once the researcher decided to use Excel, performance objectives were outlined. It was determined that a video module would best serve the needs of the students over a paper or picture module since the video would walk the student through the process. The video also allowed students to pause and rewind any part to insure that it was the right pace for each learner.
A test was developed to track baseline data of students attempting the word problem before and after the module. A survey was also developed to administer to students upon completion of the module.
The overall goal of the module was for the learner to use the Microsoft Excel program to create a table of values, and use that table of values to create a scatter plot.
Methodology
Participants were recruited through a study lab at MCC. A flyer was printed out and lab assistants passed out the flyer and signed students up to participate in the study. Prior to the launch of the module in the lab, the researcher presented the module to a math colleague for feedback and revisions. This colleague served as a subject matter expert (SME) since her educational background includes a Bachelors degree in Mathematics and a Masters degree in Mathematics Education. An additional segment was added to the original video plans to include review material on key vocabulary for the module. A website was then created to organize and house all videos for the module.
After minor revisions with wording and video edits, the first trial of the module was conducted with two students. Both students had taken an algebra class within the last year and had no problems completing the math part of the module. Both students also had strong computer backgrounds, so both were able to construct graphs in Excel simply by using trial and error.
Results
The original timeline of the project got disrupted. Minor revisions to the proposal delayed the approval for Human Subjects, therefore leaving a small window for the module to be implemented. A total of six students were able to try the module. Each subject was given a baseline test with six questions measuring nine items to check where their algebra skills were currently at. Figure 1 below depicts the results for each question in terms of the number of participants that correctly answered the numbered item.
All of the questions given to the subjects dealt with the word problem except question five. This question gave the subject the option of graphing on the provided graphing grid or in Excel. On the baseline test, five out of the six subjects could not graph on Excel, and one was able to graph but had missing elements in the graph. This was the only test item with a significant increase.
Other questions on the test gave the researcher some information on the subjects math background such as the first question, where participants needed to write an algebraic equation. This particular group showed that they did have prior algebra knowledge.
Question three asked participants to fill out a chart relating to the word problem. This was further broken down into four parts. Part a) naming the quantities being measured, b) the units involved for each quantity, c) the expression for each item, and d) filling in values that the subject needed to calculate.
Figure 1. Comparison of Baseline to Post Tests by Item.
Upon completion of the module, each participant filled out a survey. All six participants felt that the module was clear and informative and served the purpose of guiding them to create a scatter plot from their calculated data. One participant categorized them as being very low tech and preferred to graph using paper and pencil. This same participant also expressed the need to be able to refer to the module while making the scatter plot. In the end this participant remembered enough of the module to be able to search to find the particular task they were looking for.
Implications
Technology can possibly enhance any classroom. One possible hindrance of using a particular technology might be from incorrect biases acquired from experiences other users have had with a particular type of technology.
Each of the six participants in the study, with exception of one participant did not know that Excel could be used for anything more than making tables. Upon reviewing the surveys given to each participant, several indicated that other programs that the school has available would have been a more obvious choice for them to use instead of Excel.
Conclusion
The purpose of this study was to design and determine the effectiveness of an instructional module on using Excel to solve Math problems. The results are not as conclusive mainly due to the small sample size, but some insights might be drawn. It should be noted that the overall gains made by the subjects were not very much due to prior math knowledge, however, the biggest gain was in the area of creating a scatter plot in Excel, which in turn reinforces the primary purpose of the module. It was clear that most of the participants were not familiar with Excel even though they had ready access to use it at school, and possibly at home, and that the module did help them in this area.
When this module was in planning, it was determined that using a tool like Excel would enhance the knowledge they already had, but with this new tool. I think if I had to do it differently, and if I had more time, I would open up the module to help more students by including those with less algebra and include videos that would sort out much of the vocabulary used to fill in the table of values.
Finding technology to utilize in the classroom that students will be comfortable with may not have to start with an extensive search for fancy, expensive products. Much of the technology is freely accessible, or available at little to no cost. The solution may be as simple as training teachers how to use what is already available to them, which in turn could lead to a deeper, more accurate understanding of math word problems.References
Dick, W., Carey, L., & Carey, J. O. (2005). The systematic design of instruction. (5th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
Estes, C. (2004). Promoting student-centered learning in experiential education. Journal of Experiential Education, 27(2), 141-160. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. EJ739511) Retrieved September 23, 2008, from ERIC database.
Gremli, J. (1996). Tuned in to learning styles. Music Educators Journal, 83(3), 24. Retrieved January 1, 2009, from Academic Search Premier database.
Li, Q. (2005). Infusing technology into a mathematics methods course: Any impact?. Educational Research, 47(2), 217-233. Retrieved January 18, 2009.
Smith, K., & Geller, C. (2004). Essential principles of effective mathematics instruction: Methods to reach all students. Preventing School Failure, 48(4), 22-29. Retrieved April 1, 2008, from Academic Search Premier database.
Viadero, D. (2004). Math programs seen to lack a research base. Education Week, 24RTv0 V Z l
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