Inscriptions Mathematics project

The Inscriptions Math Project is a four-year, $3 million project funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The project explores how the use of digital inscriptional resources can improve middle school students’ mathematical understanding. Using a problem-centered math curriculum, a digital learning platform is being developed to assist these students in learning collaboratively.

A major goal of this project is to help middle school students deepen and communicate their understanding of mathematics. Research has indicated that having students work together and share ideas enhances their learning experience. As they do this, students use inscriptions--external representations of thinking, such as equations, diagrams, tables, or charts. This project will support students in collaboratively constructing, manipulating, and interpreting shared representations of mathematics using digital inscriptional resources. The proposed research activities will enhance the understanding of math learning and make it easier to design learning environments that:

  1. support students in using inscriptions in collaborative settings

  2. improve learning of mathematics

  3. track students’ conceptual growth of big mathematical ideas over time.

Research shows that conceptual understanding depends upon a student's capacity to represent knowledge and make sense of their inscriptions. These capacities noticeably develop in social settings where meanings of the work are publicly shared and negotiated. However, very little is known about how this type of learning is used in middle school mathematics. Learning more about how middle school students represent their knowledge through inscriptions will be of great benefit to researchers, teachers, and curriculum developers in designing more effective ways to support students in learning math. 

The Inscriptions Math Project builds on a problem-centered math curriculum that is among the most widely used and studied in the nation. This project also makes use of a digital platform that will host all of the tools developed. Additionally, the research activities will take place in schools with a wide range of diversity in gender, race, ethnicity, economic status, and disability. Therefore, the project has the potential to make problem-based learning accessible and effective for even more students than the already-effective print curriculum. Knowing how to improve support for students will also help to produce a population of mathematically literate citizens that is reflective of the wider STEM community.

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