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Boosting Math Skills with the Help of Multi-Touch Interactive Desks

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Our classrooms are getting ‘smarter’ and more interactive day by day. Technology-enabled classrooms can modify the teaching and learning processes of such subjects as math, science and English. It is a complex solution that empowers teachers to make the teaching process more interactive and inspiring by using visual means and also helps them to create question papers and assess students’ achievement. Moreover, it gives teachers the flexibility of making classroom science labs mobile. This assists in making science learning a much more engaging and hands-on experience.

Although networked interactive desks connected to a central smartboard sound a little like something borrowed from the distant future, it is, in fact, the very real thing of our days.

Researchers at Durham University’s departments of computer science, psychology and education, Durham City, County Durham, Great Britain, have been working for 3 years to develop a classroom where students could work at the desks equipped with multi-touch ‘smart’ surfaces. The researchers have discovered that students who worked with multi-touch multi-tenant desks performed better at math.

The 3-year long project, which involved over 400 participant-students, aged 8 to 10 showed that the collaborative nature of such work could boost math skills. Students who used multi-touch desks in math classes seemed to have discovered a totally new-way of collaboration. Solving problems, answering questions and participating in group activities – all of this indicated a much higher level of involvement among the kids, the researchers say. The software used for the project was open source meaning schools could use it for free.

In such classrooms the teacher plays a main role sending individual and group tasks to students’ desks and supervising the whole process. To provide that kind of technical support teachers require comprehensive training so that the technology would be used to its full potential.

Professor Liz Burd, School of Education, Durham University, who supervised the project, says their main objective was to encourage higher engagement and creativity in students at the individual and group levels. Such collaboration is also believed to promote critical-thinking and problem-solving skills in students who now have to work together, discussing, arguing and sharing their ideas rather than trying to come up with the solution on their own. Professor Liz Burd says it basically replaces passive listening with active involvement, which is essential.

The findings show that 45% of students who took part in the project improved the number of unique mathematical expressions they used, compared to the 16% increase in students using paper-based activities. Apart from better academic outcomes, the project also inspired increased student attendance.

The project called SynergyNet was designed to be used primarily in math classes but the researchers do not deny the possibility that it can be successfully implemented in other classes such as science, English and social sciences to increase students’ understanding and performance.



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