New Web-based Tools to Help Students (and Teachers) Who Find STEM Content Challenging

Participants will be asked to view and discuss free tools that Dynabook and SmartGraphs are developing. These Web-based tools link multiple visual representations and allow immediate feedback to teachers and students.

Product Feedback Session

The capabilities of interactive, Web-based media offer approaches that can be especially valuable to students and teachers who find STEM content challenging to learn. Through the lenses of both general education and special education, the presenters are designing new products to be effective for all teachers and students. Web-based tools link multiple visual representations and allow immediate feedback to teachers and students. See and discuss free tools that Dynabook and SmartGraphs are developing.

Teaching challenging mathematics and science content to diverse groups of students is a formidable task. Even highly qualified teachers do not have the expertise and knowledge to teach the range of learners in today’s classrooms (CEC, 2006; DeSimone & Parmar, 2006). While textbooks try to address the range of learners with pedagogical suggestions for students with exceptional talent or learning disabilities, they often fall short in providing conceptual information for teachers who lack key content knowledge (Sood & Jitendra, 2007). Textbooks often assume teacher expertise and treat exceptional learners as an afterthought.             

Informed by research from the fields of science, mathematics, and general and special education, teams developing Dynabook and Smartgraphs are creating dynamic learning tools for teachers and students. In designing these innovative tools, both teams draw on three complementary and synergistic conceptual frameworks —universal design for learning, technological pedagogical content knowledge, and interactive representations—which reflect state-of-the-art thinking about learning, curricula, and design of technology supported curriculum and assessment materials. Both teams seek evidence of improved learning.

Dynabook is planned as a resource focused on proportionality for pre-service teachers in general and special education to develop their technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPCK). The focus is on pre-service teachers so that they are provided a more coherent, connected view of middle school mathematics. Dynabook focuses on the related topics of ratio, similarity, and linear function. The media-rich environment includes dynamic representations, videos of student work and perceptions, and challenging problems. Users can enter through any of these paths, take notes, and complete assignments. The student work section is intended to provide a rich understanding of how middle school students think about proportionality (including misconceptions), and the strategies they employ in solving problems. In addition, Dynabook makes use of dynamic representations such as graphs, bar models, and number lines. When a learner changes one aspect of a dynamic representation, other aspects of the representation change accordingly. In addition, wherever continuity of change is important, the learner can enact change in the model or representation in a way that they experience "as continuous as time."

Smartgraphs are Web-based digital objects that “know about themselves” and provide visual and other hints and scaffolds to help students understand graphs and STEM concepts represented in graphs. SmartGraphs enable students to see what experts see when they look at a graph. Using SmartGraphs activities, students interact with graphs, which can be created by an author or input from sensors, models, or students’ computer drawings. Representations include tables and functions as well as graphs. Teachers will create new SmartGraphs activities or use existing ones. SmartGraphs software will be free and open source, and can be used by other projects and programs, as well as by teachers and students. Graphs are difficult; SmartGraphs will make them accessible to all students.

Session participants will examine both Dynabook and SmartGraphs, and consider the collaborative research that informs their development.