$2.4 Million grant is helping UMass researchers create "Tinkerplots" software for kids

April 24, 2000

Statistics class has a reputation for tripping up even the brightest students. But a $2.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation is enabling University of Massachusetts researchers to develop software that helps middle-school students get a grip on stats before math anxiety grips them. And that's important, says team leader Cliff Konold, because statistics and data analysis are becoming a bigger part of the world, not just for academic pursuits, but for everyday decision making. The group is working on the project under the auspices of the Scientific Reasoning Research Institute (SRRI), an interdisciplinary research organization devoted to the study of learning and instruction in the sciences and mathematics.

"Data analysis is more and more important. The involved citizen is expected to interpret displays of data in newspapers from the New York Times to the local weekly. If you listen to campaign arguments about gun control, health care, and education, those arguments are all made in terms of statistics." In decades past, students didn't encounter statistics and data analysis until college. Now they tangle with the topics as early as kindergarten, Konold says. "They might poll the class and ask everyone's favorite color, and then chart their preferences. By fifth grade, we see students tackling some complex and important questions, such as what maximum weight students of various genders and sizes should carry in their backpacks."

The software, dubbed "Tinkerplots," enables students to enter and analyze data, producing plots that reveal patterns and trends. Prototypes are being tested in two area schools. Researchers hope it will be widely available in 2003. The team includes software engineer Craig Miller, research specialist Amy Robinson, and Rachel Wing, a graduate student in developmental psychology.

Programs currently available for students offer a limited variety of plots, such as pie charts, bar graphs, and pictograms. In contrast, Tinkerplots is a virtual construction set that allows students to create a far greater range of representations. "Students select plots from traditional tools as if they were picking items from a restaurant menu. This may get them a good meal, but they don't learn to cook," said Robinson. "Tinkerplots is more like a stock of supplies in their kitchen, that they can use to cook whatever they like."

The software is being developed in collaboration with several experts from across the country and around the world who write middle-school math curricula. "Given the many constraints on their time, teachers are unlikely to use math software in the classroom unless it is well-integrated with their particular curriculum," Konold explains.
Note: Cliff Konold can be reached at 413-545-5886 or konold@srri.umass.edu

University of Massachusetts at Amherst

Related Math Articles from Brightsurf:

Smokers good at math are more likely to want to quit
For smokers who are better at math, the decision to quit just adds up, a new study suggests.

Not a 'math person'? You may be better at learning to code than you think
New research from the University of Washington finds that a natural aptitude for learning languages is a stronger predictor of learning to program than basic math knowledge.

Speak math, not code
Writing algorithms in mathematics rather than code is not only more elegant but also more efficient, says 2013 Turing Award winner Leslie Lamport.

Math that feels good
Mathematics and science Braille textbooks are expensive and require an enormous effort to produce -- until now.

Using math to blend musical notes seamlessly
MIT researchers have invented an algorithm that produces a real-time portamento effect, gliding a note at one pitch into a note of another pitch, between any two audio signals, such as a piano note gliding into a human voice.

Novel math could bring machine learning to the next level
In recent years, a theory called 'Topological Data Analysis,' stemmed from a branch of Mathematics so abstract that it did not seem to have any application whatsoever in the real world, has been making computers much better at recognizing meaningful structure inside all kinds of large datasets (a.k.a.

Study shows we like our math like we like our art: Beautiful
A beautiful landscape painting, a beautiful piano sonata -- art and music are almost exclusively described in terms of aesthetics, but what about math?

Phase transitions: The math behind the music
Physics Professor Jesse Berezovsky contends that until now, much of the thinking about math and music has been a top-down approach, applying mathematical ideas to existing musical compositions as a way of understanding already existing music.

IQ a better predictor of adult economic success than math
IQ in childhood is a better indicator of adult wealth than math for very preterm and very low-weight babies, according to a new study in PLOS ONE.

Math + good posture = better scores
A San Francisco State University study finding that students perform better at math while sitting with good posture could have implications for other kinds of performance under pressure.

Read More: Math News and Math Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.