Building on prior research and development efforts funded with NSF support, this project explores two broad hypotheses about how use of inscriptional resources in digital learning environments can improve middle school students’ mathematical understanding:

1.) Development and communication of mathematical understanding is enhanced by the appropriation of inscriptional resources for constructing meaningful records of student thinking

2.) Evidence for conceptual growth of mathematics becomes more sophisticated over time when students purposefully reflect on their inscriptional work at key points in the development of the big ideas of mathematics.A major goal of this project is to help students deepen and make visible their understanding of mathematics by supporting students to collaboratively construct, manipulate, and interpret their shared representations of mathematics using inscriptional resources in digital learning environments.

Research literature shows that student capacity to represent knowledge and make sense of their inscriptions is essential for conceptual understanding within a domain of learning. Further, research shows that these capacities efficiently develop through social processes where meanings of the inscriptional work are publicly shared and negotiated among students. However, very little is known about learning through inscriptions in middle school mathematics, particularly when students use inscriptional resources designed for collaborative learning.

Therefore, knowing how students develop and communicate their understanding of big mathematical ideas using inscriptional resources in digital learning environments is of critical importance for researchers, teachers, and curriculum developers. The research findings of this study will be transformational to filling that gap.

Building on a problem-centered mathematics curriculum that evolved from extensive development, field-testing and evaluation, and is among the most widely used and studied in the nation, the project has exceptional potential for broad impact. Designing and organizing personal learning logs for students to reflect on their inscriptional work promotes learning that more closely resembles practices used by experts.