How can innovative teaching methods help students better understand mathematics? “More students engage when asked to be at the heart of the learning environment,” says Assistant Professor Erin Krupa

Breaking away from traditional methods of teaching math and introducing innovative, unconventional curriculum into the classroom can help students become more engaged and better at learning how to do math, says NC assistant professor Erin Krupa. State College of Education.

Krupa’s research aims to improve the quality of mathematics teaching and learning and to make mathematics more equitable through innovative teaching materials. She said innovative methods of teaching math are important because they can better help students make connections between concepts and help them develop ideas for themselves.

“I think we know that traditional ways of math don’t engage all kids, and standing at the board, hearing a teacher, and taking notes doesn’t really engage students,” Krupa said. “More students engage when they are asked to be the center of the learning environment and participate in activities that engage them in the process. This makes them feel like valued learners in the community.

Part of bringing innovative curriculum to the classroom, Krupa said, means putting the learning on the students by having them conduct inquiries that allow them to discover key mathematical concepts.

For example, when teaching geometry classes, Krupa likes to ask students to fold square pieces of paper and make inferences about what happens, mathematically, with the resulting triangles through the act of folding. From there, students are able to develop conjectures and complete a formal proof.

“Through inquiry, they discover certain key mathematical concepts, and then they are better able to remember them because they discovered it on their own,” Krupa said. “Just that little bit of investigation for themselves helps them find new learnings.”

Connecting math to the real world

Using more than $7 million in external grants, Krupa’s research explores various innovative programs that could be implemented in math classrooms.

For example, his project “Using Animated Contrasting Cases to Improve Procedural and Conceptual Knowledge in Geometry” develops animated digital materials intended to highlight different geometric features and help students better understand the theory behind mathematical concepts than they learn.

His most recent project, “Design and Pitch Challenges in STEM: Merging Entrepreneurship and Mathematics Learning,” develops nine design challenges rooted in the high school math curriculum that will encourage students to build, test, and refine prototypes of STEM products, to design business plans to demonstrate the viability of the product and present its products to a panel of judges. The project is based on one led by Emeritus Professor of Mathematics Education Jere Confrey, Ph.D..

By engaging students in unconventional activities such as entrepreneurial pitch competitions, educators can connect math to real-world applications that make lessons meaningful and relevant for students.

“It is connected to the interests of students in their communities and in their world. They design solutions to solve pressing problems that children care about, and along the way, they learn math,” Krupa said. “It helps them connect math to other STEM subjects, but also just to solve problems in the world.”

Using innovative lessons to make math accessible to everyone

Teachers who want to engage students in innovative ways of learning math, Krupa said, could borrow from smaller-scale design and pitch competitions by bringing in tasks or problems based on real-world context.

By doing so, students are able to see math as a tool for solving problems that interest them while developing motivation to remember and use the math skills they learn.

Developing these skills, Krupa said, is important not just for students who want to pursue STEM careers, but for everyone, as these abilities are valuable and applicable even in occupations not traditionally classified as STEM jobs. .

For example, Krupa said he’s seen fashion designers apply STEM skills to use LED technology to design dresses and potters use chemistry and math to guide their art.

“A lot of times math is one of those benchmarks that you need that opens the doors to all the other courses. It is important that all students feel capable, and there is no obstacle to this success. It’s about not closing lanes to students just because of a subject,” Krupa said. “My goal is simply to make math more fun and engaging so that when you get to a point in your career, whatever your discipline, you can find the value and use of math.”

However, as teachers strive to bring new and innovative lessons into their classrooms, Krupa said they will have to be patient. Making these changes can take time and the results are not always immediately apparent.

To engage students in change, Krupa also suggests that educators share their motivations for using innovative programs.

“I think it’s important that you have to set new standards in your class early on and that you can’t give up,” she said. “Let students know why you’re doing this, that you value their opinions and care about how they think and learn math and that you want to make it easier and more accessible.”

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