Smart Desks Score Over Doing Mathematics on Paper

First Posted: Nov 26, 2012 05:44 AM EST

Mathematics is one of the most difficult and challenging subject as not everyone can understand math easily. This is one subject you can't afford to skip.

A team of researchers from the School of Education has been working hard in order to boost the mathematics skills of students.

They have discovered that using smart desks such as multi-touch and multi-user desks can have benefits over doing mathematics on paper.

They came up with this finding after doing a three year project and working with over 400 pupils in the age group of 8-10. They showed that collaborative learning increases both fluency and flexibility in maths. 

By introducing new multi- touch desks in classrooms, the children were able to work together in new ways to solve and answer questions and problems using inventive solutions.

According to the researchers, seeing what your friends are doing and being able to fully participate  in group activities, offer new ways of working in class.

The 'Star Trek' classroom is not just useful for a subject like math but could also help in learning and teaching other subjects.

The Durham University team designed software and desks that recognize multiple touches on the desktop using vision systems that see infrared light. The project called SynergyNet set out to integrate a fully collaborative system of desks, building it into the fabric and furniture of the classroom. The new desks with a 'multi-touch' surface are the central component, and these are networked and linked to a main smartboard.

Through this study the researchers showed that children who used a collaborative math activity in the SynergyNet classroom improved in both mathematical flexibility and fluency. And the children who were limited to working on traditional paper based activities only improved in flexibility.

While conducting the project, the team noticed that 45 percent of the students who used NumberNet showed an improvement in the number of unique mathematical expressions they created, whereas 16 percent of the students who used traditional paper based activity lacked this.

Lead researcher, Professor Liz Burd, said: "Our aim was to encourage far higher levels of active student engagement, where knowledge is obtained by sharing, problem-solving and creating, rather than by passive listening. This classroom enables both active engagement and equal access.

"We found our tables encouraged students to collaborate more effectively. We were delighted to observe groups of students enhancing others' understanding of mathematical concepts. Such collaboration just did not happen when students used paper-based approaches."

The new system talks of 'move to use' white board and the new desks that can be both screen and keyboard. The desks act like multi-touch white boards and several students can use any one desk at once.

Researcher, Emma Mercier, said: "Cooperative learning works very well in the new classroom because the pupils interact and learn in a different way. The children really enjoy doing math in this way and are always disappointed when you turn the desks off!"

"We can achieve fluency in maths through practice; however, boosting a pupil's ability to find a range of solutions to arithmetic questions is harder to teach. This classroom can help teachers to use collaborative learning to improve their pupils' flexibility in maths."

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