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  1. Deborah Spencer
  2. http://www.linkedin.com/in/deborahbspencer
  3. Managing Project Director
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  5. Education Development Center (EDC)
  1. Katie Chiappinelli
  2. Senior Curriculum Associate
  3. Presenter’s NSFRESOURCECENTERS
  4. Education Development Center (EDC)
  1. Kate Coleman
  2. https://www.edc.org/staff/kate-coleman
  3. Senior Curriculum Associate
  4. Presenter’s NSFRESOURCECENTERS
  5. Education Development Center (EDC)
  1. Jim Galdos
  2. https://www.linkedin.com/in/jim-galdos-a1556442/
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  1. E Paul Goldenberg
  2. https://www.edc.org/staff/e-paul-goldenberg
  3. Distinguished Scholar, Mathematics and Computer Science
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  5. Education Development Center (EDC)
  1. Zak Kolar
  2. Digital Learning Teacher
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  4. Waltham Public Schools, Education Development Center (EDC)
  1. June Mark
  2. https://www.edc.org/staff/june-mark
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  5. Education Development Center (EDC)
  1. Kristen Reed
  2. https://www.linkedin.com/in/kristenreededc/
  3. Managing Project Director
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  5. Education Development Center (EDC)
Presenters’
Choice
Public
Choice

Mathematics through Programming in the Elementary Grades

NSF Awards: 1934161

2022 (see original presentation & discussion)

Grades K-6

In the Math+C project, we are developing microworlds within a blocks-based programming language, Snap!, that integrate programming into elementary mathematics as a language to help children express and explore mathematical ideas. Embedding programming into core mathematics instruction for grades 2–5 ensures that all children gain experience with programming, in developmentally appropriate ways – and it increases access to critical content by providing an engaging approach to learning mathematics that offers different affordances than pencil-and-paper activities.

Programming gives students a language with which to express their thinking precisely and have that thinking enacted by the computer, making it easier for students to assess, refine, and extend their thinking. Expressing mathematical ideas as runnable code lets students experiment with mathematics and gather results from the experiments much as they’d manipulate physical objects to explore their properties and behaviors. This approach takes advantage of children’s native way of learning: doing, getting feedback, building experience, then naming and systematizing. This epistemological principle of experience before formality guides our approach to curriculum development in mathematics and in programming.

Our use of microworlds within Snap! allows us to limit cognitive distraction and provide a low threshold for entry into programming for young children, as early as grade 2, while giving them an authentic programming experience in a powerful language. A microworld provides only the programming tools needed for a specific context; ours limit the programming blocks that children can see or access within Snap!, provide a customized mathematical “stage” (e.g., a number line, a coordinate grid, a “rectangle building” grid), and at least three sets of highly mathematical puzzles, increasing in sophistication, for children to solve.

The microworlds have a low threshold for entry for teachers as well – teachers need not be expert in programming, or in Snap!, to use and enjoy these resources. Use in classrooms is intended to be a multi-day sequence of instruction – like a mini-module – that can be fully integrated with the core content being explored in the mathematics curriculum. This instructional experience is supported by teacher materials that offer guidance on mathematics and programming content, suggestions for implementation, and lesson plans.

Our microworlds include a family of number line microworlds that encompasses ideas of order, magnitude, distance and addition/subtraction; distinct instances focus on small integers, decimals, and fractions. Other microworlds focus on base-10 structure, area and multiplication, factors and multiples, angle, and more.

Each microworld has been tested (or is currently being tested) in classrooms in grades 2–5 (in-person, remote, or hybrid) and refined based on classroom observations and individual student interviews. As microworlds are developed and refined, they will become freely available for wider use on our website (several have links posted there now). We welcome feedback from users who explore these resources.

We are deeply appreciative for the hard work of the students, teachers, and administrators in the Waltham Public Schools who have partnered with us in this project. We are also very grateful for our partnership with the evaluation team at Horizon Research, Inc., led by Daniel Heck.

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Discussion from the 2022 STEM For All Video Showcase (40 posts)
  • Icon for: Kristen Reed

    Kristen Reed

    Co-Presenter
    Managing Project Director
    May 9, 2022 | 06:06 p.m.

    Welcome to our Math+C page and thank you for viewing our video! 

    In collaboration with elementary school teachers, technology specialists and mathematics coaches, this early-stage design and development project explores the promise of integrating programming into the elementary mathematics curriculum in a way that is mutually supportive of both subjects. Within the block-based programming language, Snap!, we are developing mathematical microworlds. Each microworld contains a customized mathematical stage (e.g. a number line, a coordinate grid, an “array building” grid), at least three sets of mathematical puzzles to solve, and a clean user-interface design that presents only the features and programming blocks that children need in order to focus on and explore the mathematics and solve the puzzles. 

    Our team is interested in your feedback and having a discussion related to these topics: 

    • Teachers and Principals, we are excited to hear from you about how you are integrating computer science and computational thinking in your schools. Do you have experience integrating programing? What strategies have you used that worked well? 
    • Researchers and program directors, what successes and challenges have you had in your work to integrate computer science and computational thinking into the core content and regular classroom time of elementary schools? Have you also worked to integrate programming? 
    • What other comments, feedback, and questions do you have? 

    Check out our website https://elementarymath.edc.org/programming/ to access our microworlds and learn more! 

     
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    Kristen Reed
  • Icon for: Emmanuel Nti-Asante

    Emmanuel Nti-Asante

    May 10, 2022 | 10:09 a.m.

    I thank you for this wonderful research. I do not know how you might capitalize on the mathematical language over that of the programming. 

     
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    E Paul Goldenberg
  • Icon for: E Paul Goldenberg

    E Paul Goldenberg

    Co-Presenter
    Distinguished Scholar, Mathematics and Computer Science
    May 10, 2022 | 12:52 p.m.

    Hi, Emmanuel.

    I'd been so busy writing my comment (next in this list) that I didn't see yours until just now.

    I'm assuming that you are asking how we connect what children do on the computer with the kind of notation they use in math classes. (I hope that assumption is right. Otherwise, please correct me.)

    Conventional mathematical notation—the normal written forms we use—is a brilliant (and hard won) invention, a language that is precise and concise and has very few ambiguities. It's essential for doing mathematics, and so it's essential for kids to acquire. But that concision also makes it is a hard place to start. Especially for little ones, reading and writing is still a developing skill and learning mathematics through that written link is hard. And mathematical notation is very different reading and writing from the text reading-writing that kids are learning: every character matters, it's not strictly left to right, and even vertical position can matter. We recognize prose writing as a way to record ideas, and teachers of young children increasingly realize that the expression of those ideas is primary and getting the expression into proper form takes time. By contrast, mathematics is often treated as if it were the marks on paper, not a collection of ideas and a manner of thinking about and manipulating those ideas followed by a way to record that thinking precisely. Even when everything has been figured out, the math isn't "done" until there's something on paper.

    Our project hasn't been studying the transition from doing the mathematics in the programming context to recording that mathematics. (We've done a few experiments with that, but this grant cannot support serious research in that area.) But our tentative hypothesis would be that if people can get the ideas and strategies and processes straight in their heads, the notation becomes a way to summarize and record, and is easier to acquire in that order. And, of course, every other bit of mathematics instruction is focusing on that notation, so....

     
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    Kristen Reed
  • Icon for: E Paul Goldenberg

    E Paul Goldenberg

    Co-Presenter
    Distinguished Scholar, Mathematics and Computer Science
    May 10, 2022 | 10:53 a.m.

    Hi. I’m part of the team that has been developing the ideas you see in this project. Of the many things that have made the work on this project particularly intriguing to me, here are two that almost always come first to my mind.

    Kids explore mathematics and solve problems using a language that is clear, informative, and forgiving. Beginning writers can misspell an entire sentence and we still know their intent and can decide where to focus our attention. But conventional mathematical notation is extremely terse with no redundancy to help clarify intent. If a child writes 7 + 5 = 2 we can’t tell whether the child thought the wrong thing or just slipped in the writing, omitting or changing just a single character. And looking back later, even the child may not know. Coding gives instant feedback, letting children learn the mathematical language.

    They also learn to evaluate their ideas and work for themselves, giving them autonomy and independence in problem-solving. We regularly hear the little yip of “I did it!” We never see kids looking to the teacher to ask “is that right?” They do sometimes ask small questions about how to use the tool, but mostly figure that out by experimenting and are just as inclined to look over at another child as to ask an adult. Children gain control and confidence, visibly increasing the number of children actively engaged in the work.

    I’ve also found it fascinating—and fun!—to see the enormous contribution that both teachers and children have made to the evolution of the puzzles and tools. These contributions are, to us, clear evidence that the environment is “clicking” with teachers and kids, both interesting and useful. Here are just two examples of contributions from the kids: A 2nd grade girl near the beginning of the year spawned several puzzles when she figured out how to reach all the numbers on a number line, explaining “I just go plus 3, plus 3, minus 5. Then do that [a lot].” Mathematical induction from a 7-year-old. Several second graders asked for abstractions we hadn’t yet provided so that when they build scripts like the one that little girl explained, they can get the effect of combining those bits of arithmetic to make it look like just a single jump, not several. This spawned two new tools and several puzzles.

    We'd love to answer any questions you have about the microworlds or the ideas behind them. And we should also note that the elementarymath website linked above is evolving, with new microworlds being added as soon as they are ready, and with other mathematical resources for teachers.

     
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    Kristen Reed
  • Icon for: Myriam Steinback

    Myriam Steinback

    Facilitator
    Consultant
    May 10, 2022 | 05:09 p.m.

    This project is fascinating - it's a great example of children having mathematical ideas! The students' words describe their learning best, and ending with "I found that coding helps me learn" was perfect. The example you cited of the 2nd grader was just great.

    I watched some of your videos about the microworlds and found them very interesting. I'm curious to hear about the support for teachers - in addition to the materials that are specific for them, do you offer them PD? I understand that it is intended to be used as a module - how are you finding teachers' use of it - I realize they already have a full plate with what they need to do; is it doable? 

     
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    E Paul Goldenberg
    Kristen Reed
  • Icon for: Katie Chiappinelli

    Katie Chiappinelli

    Co-Presenter
    Senior Curriculum Associate
    May 10, 2022 | 07:28 p.m.

    Hi Myriam! Thanks so much for your interest in our project. I'm so glad you like the student's description about how coding helps them learn–it really is such a powerful and exciting point. I'm also glad you had a chance to check out some of the microworlds posted on our website. We plan to upload some additional microworlds this week on arrays, fraction number line and decimals as well, so please stay tuned.

    Our microworlds are designed to be easily accessible for teachers, as well as children. Teachers need not be experts in programming, or in Snap! to use these resources. Because the microworlds limit the palette of programming blocks that children have access to, the interface is easy to learn and use. Meaning that teachers do not need to explain many technical details to children, or know how to deal with the complexities of the programming language itself. Use in classrooms is intended to be a multi-day sequence of instruction–like a mini-module–that can be fully integrated with the core content being explored in the mathematics curriculum.

    Most of our microworlds have an accompanying teacher guide that offers guidance on mathematics and programming content, suggestions for implementation, and lesson plans. However, several teacher guides are still in development and we can certainly keep in touch when they are fully available. Many teachers have shared that playing in the microworld, and trying each of the puzzles themselves, provides the best preparation for teachers who want to introduce the tools in their classrooms. A digital learning teacher can also be a supportive partner in the classroom for implementing these activities, as can a math coach, if either are available as a resource – and may be especially helpful when first getting started.

    Of course, we're always happy to connect directly if you have additional questions and our contact information is posted on our website as well. Thanks again for your interest and we always love to hear from teachers, math coaches and facilitators about how the microworlds work for them and their students. 

    Best,

    Katie Chiappinelli

    kchiappinelli@edc.org

     

     

     
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    E Paul Goldenberg
    Kristen Reed
  • Icon for: E Paul Goldenberg

    E Paul Goldenberg

    Co-Presenter
    Distinguished Scholar, Mathematics and Computer Science
    May 11, 2022 | 01:05 p.m.

    Addendum:  We are gradually and informally learning what a TG really needs. As Katie pointed out, the startup load for a teacher is small—we've designed for easy accessibility and will have super-short (60-second) intro videos for each microworld to help—but want to be more helpful to teachers about how the MWs might best help their classroom. Teachers are already enormously over-busy, their teaching time is already obligated and crowded, and their planning time is also full, so any planning or classroom time they invest in having kids use the MW had better pay itself back both in advantages to the kids and time repaid-saved for the teacher. The TG needs to be helpful but very, very short and easy to use for exactly the same reason; teachers don't have time for much more.

     
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    Myriam Steinback
  • Icon for: David Kung

    David Kung

    Facilitator
    Director of Policy
    May 10, 2022 | 11:14 p.m.

    Love hearing about these students' positive experiences! As with any intervention, I'm sure this one works better for some students than others. What is the experience like for kids who aren't as engaged by the coding?  

     
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    E Paul Goldenberg
  • Icon for: Katie Chiappinelli

    Katie Chiappinelli

    Co-Presenter
    Senior Curriculum Associate
    May 11, 2022 | 11:51 a.m.

    Hi David. One of the great things we’re hearing from teachers is that student engagement is high with these microworlds. Students often ask if they can do it again tomorrow, or whether they can work on the microworlds at home. However other students may take longer to engage with the microworlds and benefit from spending time experimenting on their own before digging into the puzzles. This level of experimentation means students are free to test out ideas as they gain familiarity with the how the microworld works. Often times, a student may then move directly into working on puzzles or even opt to create challenges of their own. Programming becomes a logical way for students to explore and share their mathematical thinking whether they jump right into the puzzles or take some extra to time experiment. 

    I hope this answers your question but please know that we're always happy to continue the conversation. Thanks again for your interest in our work.

    Best,

    Katie Chiappinelli

    kchiappinelli@edc.org

  • Icon for: Zak Kolar

    Zak Kolar

    Co-Presenter
    Digital Learning Teacher
    May 11, 2022 | 10:08 p.m.

    Hi David!
    Speaking from the teacher end of this experience, I completely agree with Katie. We sometimes see a handful of students who spend more time experimenting with the blocks and other microworld features prior to engaging with the actual puzzles or between puzzles. For the most part, students who explore and experiment organically make their way (back) into the puzzles and the few who don't can be redirected with a gentle nudge. One way to do this is to ask them about the discoveries they've made and encourage them to use these discoveries to create (and solve) their own puzzles. Some of these student-created puzzles have included trying to create (or avoid) certain patterns, trying to efficiently produce very high or very low numbers, trying to create their own blocks (using existing blocks) to help solve future puzzles, and more. In the 4 grades of students we've worked with over the past 3 years, I have yet to see anyone who doesn't engage in some way!

  • Icon for: E Paul Goldenberg

    E Paul Goldenberg

    Co-Presenter
    Distinguished Scholar, Mathematics and Computer Science
    May 12, 2022 | 08:26 a.m.

    Thanks, David. One more thought. We know that some of the (enormous!) engagement we see is just because this is "different." Kids like new experiences and if everything were taught this way some of the excitement and novelty would be lost. We also assume that some kids are captured by the idea of coding but we don't assume that's a primary source of their initial attraction. (We hope, of course, that positive experiences with coding "invites" more children to see themselves as able and interested. The fact that we put this in regular class time, not pullout time, is strategic and deliberate in order to make that invitation to a broad population of kids.)

    But it also seems that a big part of what is attractive to the children is that they can experiment in a way that typical mathematics experiences (even with manipulatives) does not provide. They can be active with manipulatives, but the objects, just like notations on paper, then just sit where they were placed. Kids may or may not find themselves engaged by coding but pretty much all kids like interaction. And the feedback from the interaction gives them information. Near as we can tell—and there's lots, of course, that we can't easily tell yet—their engagement is because they are genuinely puzzling through the tasks we suggest in much the way they puzzle through so many new things and situations they encounter out of school.

    The rationale behind this project is not that coding would attract kids but that the ability to interact with mathematics—not just repeat or practice it—will support their learning and increase their engagement. At least so far, that seems to be the case.

  • Icon for: Cynthia Stenger

    Cynthia Stenger

    Researcher
    May 13, 2022 | 09:02 a.m.

    Thank you for this explanation of your program.

    One statement succinctly describes what we strive for and have seen in our program as well (CPR2): programming gives students the “ability to interact with mathematics”.

     
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    E Paul Goldenberg
  • Icon for: E Paul Goldenberg

    E Paul Goldenberg

    Co-Presenter
    Distinguished Scholar, Mathematics and Computer Science
    May 13, 2022 | 10:34 a.m.

    Yes, interaction is crucial. For people who are already "in" the game—enamored of mathematics, with good mathematical habits of mind and skilled in the manipulations—true interaction with mathematics may require nothing but a sheet of paper, sometimes not even that. But to enter the game—to learn how to think mathematically and love it and gain the skills to interact with it—one needs more lively tools. Dynamic geometry tools like Sketchpad, Cabri, Geogebra let one create interactive geometric experiments. CAS sort of does that with algebra, but only sort of because the user still has to be able to compose and read fairly complicated structures. Programming has the potential to be an easier entryway.

     
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    Kristen Reed
  • Icon for: Noelani Ogasawara Morris

    Noelani Ogasawara Morris

    Facilitator
    Demonstration Teacher
    May 11, 2022 | 12:31 a.m.

    I'm curious to know how teachers are using this in their classroom as well! Is this a supplemental technological piece like ST Math, Dreambox, or iReady where students can log on at home and work at their own pace? Or do teachers choose from a collection of math units and students are assigned tasks?

  • Icon for: Kate Coleman

    Kate Coleman

    Co-Presenter
    Senior Curriculum Associate
    May 11, 2022 | 10:55 a.m.

    Hi Noelani,

    Great question! Thanks so much for your interest. Our microworlds are designed to be embedded into the core mathematics instruction (for grades 2–5) in the classroom. They are not designed as a supplemental add on. This is so that all children gain experience with programming, in developmentally appropriate ways– and it increases access to mathematical ideas by providing an engaging approach to learning critical mathematics content that offers different affordances than pencil-and-paper activities.

    Use in classrooms is intended to be a multi-day sequence of instruction – like a mini-module – that can be fully integrated with the core content being explored in the mathematics curriculum. Because our microworlds are focused on core mathematics content, teachers align their placement into the unit of study on that given topic. We have seen teachers use our microworlds as a way to introduce a new unit of study, for use during the unit, or even towards the end of a unit. There is a lot of flexibility given to teachers as to where within a unit of study it make sense to place these microworlds—and this is one piece feedback that has been very positive. Teachers have shared that because the microworld content is so closely aligned to the common core state standards, it is a very natural fit to include our microworlds as a two or three day experience within their unit of study. 

    During the microworld, students often work at their own pace through the sets of puzzles. While puzzles are offered in a highly intentional sequence, the microworlds do not enforce that sequence, allowing children to customize their path through each puzzle set. Each microworld is designed to tap children’s curiosity and spark their engagement in problem solving. We build and sustain that engagement through simple but elegant design, compelling puzzles, and children’s delight with their own discoveries and growing competency in the programming environment. There's very little preparation on part of the teacher—because they microworlds are really guided by each child's unique experience in working through the various puzzles.

    I hope that this addresses your question—and we are always happy to connect directly if you have additional questions too. Our contact information is posted on our website as well.

    Thank you again for your interest. We always love to hear from teachers, math coaches, and facilitators about the microworlds and their use in classrooms!

    Best,

    Kate Coleman

    kcoleman@edc.org

     
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    Kristen Reed
  • Icon for: Noelani Ogasawara Morris

    Noelani Ogasawara Morris

    Facilitator
    Demonstration Teacher
    May 11, 2022 | 12:59 p.m.

    Yes, this definitely answers my question is peeks my interest!  Thank you for expanding and explaining further how some teachers have utilized this program in their classrooms.

     
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    Kate Coleman
  • Icon for: Jessica Stovall

    Jessica Stovall

    Higher Ed Faculty
    May 11, 2022 | 02:29 p.m.

    I enjoyed watching the video for your project and reading your comments.  I am part of a team that has also been researching the impacts of using programming to teach mathematical reasoning.  Our current project has been focused on 7th and 8th grade classrooms, though past projects have had us in elementary classrooms as well.  In our projects, we have also seen that students “learn to evaluate their ideas and work for themselves” as Paul stated.  The nature of programming makes it appear more game-like to many and the students seem to enjoy working through the processes themselves.  They don’t mind when a computer tells them they are wrong in the same way that they do when a teacher may tell them the same thing. 

    In another post, Paul also mentioned conventional mathematical notation. I agree that computational thinking helps lead to an easier transition into formal mathematical writing.  We use Python in our CPR2 Instructional Model, and the general expressions are in the code directly.  Once the students have successfully generated a program that does what they are wanting, the mathematical notation is right there.  One cool thing we see, as you mentioned in your video as well, is the computer allows multiple ways to arrive at the same result.  This leads to great discussion about mathematical concepts.   

    I think introducing students to computational thinking at an early age is very important.  I believe that having students explore mathematics in this way would lead to a very smooth transition into what we do using Python. Thanks for sharing your work!

     
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    Kristen Reed
  • Icon for: Kristen Reed

    Kristen Reed

    Co-Presenter
    Managing Project Director
    May 11, 2022 | 04:15 p.m.

    Jessica, I'm so glad you commented here. I just had a chance to watch your video and read a little more about the CPR2 project. Our work seems very well aligned and it would be great to connect to learn more. 

  • Icon for: Jessica Stovall

    Jessica Stovall

    Higher Ed Faculty
    May 12, 2022 | 02:27 p.m.

    I agree and I look forward to continued discussion about our projects with each other!

  • Icon for: Kristina Anna Kramarczuk

    Kristina Anna Kramarczuk

    Graduate Student
    May 11, 2022 | 05:19 p.m.

    Thank you for this project! The relationship between math and computing, especially how math tends to create barriers for students to pursue computing later on in high school and college, intrigues me. I was wondering if your team has thought of ways to present this research in a way that promotes district leaders and policy makers to reconsider math as a gatekeeper to computer science and instead see blended environments like those you are creating (or computing classes in general) as alternative pathways for students to pursue computing later on? Your findings are powerful and I am curious how they may all fit into the broadening participation in computing movement, especially for altering a system that historically marginalizes many students in both math and computing education.

  • Icon for: E Paul Goldenberg

    E Paul Goldenberg

    Co-Presenter
    Distinguished Scholar, Mathematics and Computer Science
    May 12, 2022 | 09:41 a.m.

    Hi, Kristina. Thanks for your comment and question. Just a moment ago, I commented briefly (and parenthetically) on this issue of broader participation in a response to David (above).

    Absolutely right. Mathematics is a gatekeeper, and not just to CS but to higher academic or vocational education broadly. That's partly because so many disciplines and professions rely on clear mathematical thinking (whether or not they rely on any of the myriad facts and content details taught in K-12 math classes). Computing is quickly becoming another gateway to good careers. Providing access more broadly and eliminating conscious or unconscious filtering—the common (wrong) perception that people "have" or "don't have" mathematical minds and neither a teacher nor the individual can do much to change that—is a serious social issue, one part of the historical marginalization you mentioned, and an issue that broadly robs our entire economy by wasting talent and differentially decides which talent to waste.

    Teaching "regular" mathematics via programming is, we believe, good for the mathematics; it lets kids express the mathematical ideas in ways that allow them to experiment with the ideas and hone them; it lets them do the mathematics visibly, rather than just writing down what their heads have already finished doing and told their fingers to write. Testing that belief was a principal aim of our project. And our deliberate design to test it in the context of regular mathematics lessons, not special pullout classes, was to ensure that if we are right about the value of this approach for mathematical learning, it happens in a context that can potentially reach any student. And another very important "deliverable" is a model that other people can use to invent and build more of this kind of educational opportunity.

    We have already seen that happening a bit, as a group at CitiLab in Barcelona created two microworlds built on one of our early prototypes. And our own microworlds are already in English and Spanish, with some in Portuguese and German as well.

    We hope that the models we can provide and test inspire other projects to go further not just in inventing more education of this kind but doing the vastly important, but vastly bigger, job that you point to. 

  • Icon for: Paul Adams

    Paul Adams

    Higher Ed Administrator
    May 11, 2022 | 05:48 p.m.

    Great video, and the voices of the students provides great insight on the impact of your project.  My question - what do you see as the next steps for these students as they move forward to different grades?  It appears that the work shows the power of using coding as a manipulative to learn mathematics.  What would you recommend to help students continue the journey of learning mathematics in this manner?

  • Icon for: E Paul Goldenberg

    E Paul Goldenberg

    Co-Presenter
    Distinguished Scholar, Mathematics and Computer Science
    May 12, 2022 | 09:57 a.m.

    The longer journey is a great question, one we hope someday to be able to pursue. Even as we put "coding" at the service of mathematics—mathematics the driver and coding a tool—we do need to pay attention to the growth of students' programming knowledge. As the students' mathematical ideas grow, so must the tools for exploring it.

    With the youngest children, the programming is sequences of commands to cause visible effects—a move on a number line, the creation of an array, the location on a grid, some manipulation of shape. But even early on we give experiences with functional programming (in our multiplication microworld)—creating expressions that calculate and return a result that can then be used in more complex expressions. That naturally arises early and advances quickly long before algebra.

    We hope that the models we provide by the end of this project will inspire inventions by others that we don't have time on the project to invent ourselves, and we have deliberately put effort into making the building of these microworlds (and documentation for building them and providing them in multiple languages) accessible to others. 

  • Icon for: Paul Adams

    Paul Adams

    Higher Ed Administrator
    May 12, 2022 | 11:54 a.m.

    Thanks!  Your project is sparking new ideas for others to follow.

  • May 11, 2022 | 08:23 p.m.

    That is such a wonderful idea. We are developing a flow-based programming language connecting CS with music. I hope someday we can also connect with math. 

     
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    E Paul Goldenberg
  • Icon for: June Mark

    June Mark

    Co-Presenter
    Managing Project Director
    May 12, 2022 | 02:43 p.m.

    Hi Victor, Thank you for watching our video and sharing about your work. I believe that our projects have the shared goal of providing children experiences engaging in mathematics, science, etc. themselves and seeing themselves as capable of doing mathematics and science. And that can lead to children considering STEM pathways in the future. Look forward to learning more about your work.

  • Icon for: Kelly Powers

    Kelly Powers

    May 11, 2022 | 09:01 p.m.

    This is pretty awesome. Have you or any teachers, cross-walked when they should perhaps use these modules, to a curriculum for pacing purposes? Our teachers often desire a crosswalk or when best to introduce the "microworld" in this case. A module alignment to a curriculum the school is using could be useful.

    Can the microworlds be used in Scratch ? I notice the choice was Snap ? 

    Also wondering how we can build this experience into an applied project in the future :) 

  • Icon for: June Mark

    June Mark

    Co-Presenter
    Managing Project Director
    May 12, 2022 | 10:01 a.m.

    Hi Kelly, Thanks for your interest in out work. We have been working closely with the elementary mathematics coach, digital learning teacher, and the elementary teachers in our development and testing of these microworlds. The discussions include considering the mathematics standards and computational thinking standards addressed in the microworlds, and we work closely to think about how the mathematical focus of the microworld aligns with the elementary mathematics curriculum that is being used.

    For example, in our recent testing of a decimal microworld, conversations about when best to use the microworld with students led to providing students with the opportunity to explore the decimal number line microworld before the class started their decimal unit. It led to teachers learning how much students already knew about decimals. The knowledge gained about pacing and alignment will inform the continued development of our teaching guides.

    The microworlds are developed in Snapwhich is very similar to Scratch. We used Snap! because of some of the mathematical capabilities it affords and because the Snap! developers were interested in the idea of creating microworlds and have worked with us to facilitate our development of them in Snap!. For students who have used Scratch, working with the blocks will be similar. 

    As to your question of applied projects, the digital learning teacher in a school worked with teachers to build on students' experiences in our microworlds to develop other projects that integrate programming into other subjects, including some lessons where students created programs that shared their learning about turtles. 

    Hope this answers some questions, and we are happy to continue the conversation. 

  • Icon for: E Paul Goldenberg

    E Paul Goldenberg

    Co-Presenter
    Distinguished Scholar, Mathematics and Computer Science
    May 13, 2022 | 11:05 a.m.

    Hi, Kelly! So nice to hear from you!!

    I had two small addenda to June's quite thorough response. In our proposal to the NSF, we did say we'd use Scratch. After all, Scratch would already be more likely to be familiar to elementary school teachers. The specific issue that changed our mind after we started was some of the ways the two languages (more like two dialects) are optimized. Scratch is optimized for stage plays (whence the name "stage")—protecting kids from losing their sprites off the edge of the world, and giving them lots of control over drawing and a suitable amount of mathematics to make proper measurements for their drawing. It is wildly successful. And the "limitations" it imposes are deliberate to make it inviting and accessible and successful for introducing coding, and offering tons of room for growth. That is the deep rationale for a microworld—everything you need and no more, in order to limit distraction.

    But, for mathematics, a different optimization is needed. I haven't checked recently to see how Scratch may have evolved, but at the time we started, Scratch's finite stage protected us from losing the sprite, but also meant that the simple repeat (move turn) algorithm for drawing a circle or square worked only if executed far enough from the stage wall. And Scratch's decision to avoid the complexity involved in letting users define new functions (reporters) would keep not only our team from building the behind-the-scenes tools we needed to provide for the children, but would also limit what mathematical objects they could create.

    The pacing question fascinates me because of the surprise this has been for us. The first microworld we built was the second-grade number line. It matches standards, was tested with kids, and the second graders find it easy enough to be accessible and hard enough to be puzzling and fun. If it were too easy, it would bore them. So perfectly tuned to second grade! Right? 

    BUT we discovered quite early that first graders also found it both accessible and fun. And much later, we learned that third graders did, too. That then turned out true for our 2nd grade map microworld. I don't know why this is the case, but my conjecture is that the learning is just different in a programming environment than it is in pencil-paper learning. The fact that kids at three different ages and levels of mathematical competence find these equally accessible and challenging must (I'm guessing, so take that "must" with a grain of salt) mean that they are getting different challenges, seeing different things, mentally asking themselves different things or interpreting the problems in different ways at the three ages.

    In any event, what we're seeing is that pacing and crosswalking isn't quite as straighforward as we, ourselves, would have guessed. Most recently, the decimal number line was, in one fourth grade, the very first contact they had with decimals—no prior instruction or (known) experience with decimals. And they came out of it having learned a lot. So, introduction before instruction? With the unit? As a review or application after the unit. All three, with different puzzles just to avoid repetition? We're not able to say which is the optimal use. That'll take some feedback from the field.

     
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    Myriam Steinback
  • Icon for: Janet Stramel

    Janet Stramel

    Researcher
    May 11, 2022 | 09:16 p.m.

    I love hearing the elementary students saying, "I love doing math with coding!" I have the same question as Paul... what are the next steps with these students? And do you plan to track their progress to the next grade level?

  • Icon for: June Mark

    June Mark

    Co-Presenter
    Managing Project Director
    May 12, 2022 | 03:02 p.m.

    Hi Janet, My colleague Paul Goldenberg responded to Paul's question above about next steps with these students, and shared a bit about ideas and microworlds that we are developing for upper elementary and beyond. I can add a little more here. With some of our microworlds, there are natural extensions of the mathematics such as extending students' experiences working with small integers focusing on addition and subtraction to explorations with fractions and decimals on the number line. Other microworlds focus on mathematics content that includes place value, area and multiplication, angles, the coordinate plane, and factors and multiples.

    We have been fortunate to work in a school for multiple years where the children who tested early microworlds with us as second graders are now fourth graders and soon to be in fifth grade. It has been fascinating to see the growth in their comfort with the programming, and to see their thinking about the mathematics develop. Hopefully in future work, we'll have opportunities to more systematically track students' progress across grades. Thanks for watching our video and for your interest in the work. 

  • Icon for: Cynthia Stenger

    Cynthia Stenger

    Researcher
    May 13, 2022 | 08:48 a.m.

    What an amazing opportunity to follow these students. I am going to do more digging into your microworlds. It reminds me of mapping from one set to another, like working in the integers then expanding to rationals.

  • Icon for: E Paul Goldenberg

    E Paul Goldenberg

    Co-Presenter
    Distinguished Scholar, Mathematics and Computer Science
    May 13, 2022 | 11:14 a.m.

    Extension is one of the motivators of our puzzles. In the simplest 2nd grade integer microworld are seeds of linear combinations (a later version of the integer world for kids who are studying common factors gives kids ±9 and ±15) and negative numbers (we don't pose puzzles that involve the use of them, but 0 is not at the far left of the line and we've learned that no children, even in first grade, are puzzled when they accidentally or deliberately land on those numbers). And we zoom in on that same structure for fractions and decimals.

    It's been fun for us. I wish we could follow these kids and keep building for them (and, of course, everyone else—these are all freely accessible) as they move into middle school and algebra!

    Thanks for your interest. It'd be fun to think together more about these ideas!

  • Icon for: Cynthia Stenger

    Cynthia Stenger

    Researcher
    May 13, 2022 | 08:45 a.m.

    I am excited about by quote from your abstract, “Programming gives students a language with which to express their thinking precisely and have that thinking enacted by the computer, making it easier for students to assess, refine, and extend their thinking.” … how elegantly put! This is what I have observed over 11 years working with students in our project CPR2. Humans need some sort of language to communicate (even with their own minds and imaginations) . Programming language and even formal mathematical language such as “ for any”, and “for all” give students a vehicle to access, and also  express, general and abstract math and science concepts.

  • Icon for: Cynthia Stenger

    Cynthia Stenger

    Researcher
    May 13, 2022 | 08:55 a.m.

    The part of your comment to Paul about “creating expressions that calculate and return a result that can then be used in more complex expressions” has been productive for us. (CPR2) When possible we try to find the general expression in the code, but also  to give students the mathematical language and symbology to accompany the expressions they are using in their code.

     
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    E Paul Goldenberg
  • Icon for: Kate Coleman

    Kate Coleman

    Co-Presenter
    Senior Curriculum Associate
    May 13, 2022 | 09:59 a.m.

    Hi Cynthia!

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I just had the opportunity to watch your video and learn more about CPR2 and it certainly seems like there is a lot of alignment between our two projects. I agree with you that programming gives students a language with which to express either thinking and one unique aspect to it is that it is an active language. The approach takes advantage of students' native way of learning: doing, getting feedback, building experience, then naming and systematizing. I think that it is so powerful that students can debug their work as they go.

    In your video, one of your partner teachers makes a comment that students "didn't want the lessons to end." That was our experience as well! The level of engagement with our microworlds was incredibly high in the classroom. Teachers also reported that students asked to do more programming outside of the mathematics block.

    We'd love to connect more on this important work. Thanks again for sharing!

     

  • Icon for: Cynthia Stenger

    Cynthia Stenger

    Researcher
    May 13, 2022 | 10:30 a.m.

    Yes, we have also had students asking their teachers, “when do we get to program again”. Since they rarely ask, “when do we get to work with general expressions and learn how to use them to write proofs?” This is a win!

     
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    E Paul Goldenberg
  • Icon for: E Paul Goldenberg

    E Paul Goldenberg

    Co-Presenter
    Distinguished Scholar, Mathematics and Computer Science
    May 13, 2022 | 11:17 a.m.

    !! and a broad smile!

  • May 13, 2022 | 06:52 p.m.

    Excellent video and explanation of what is important about this project.  Congratulations All!!!

  • Icon for: June Mark

    June Mark

    Co-Presenter
    Managing Project Director
    May 13, 2022 | 07:13 p.m.

    Thank you Joyce, I also appreciated the opportunity to learn more about your work through your projects' videos. Such exciting projects!

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