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Univ. Spin-Off Offers Technology to Boost Math Learning

Math notations

(Gerd Altmann, Pixabay)

1 September 2017. A new company aims to make learning algebra more intuitive and productive for students with software based on research at Indiana University in Bloomington. Graspable Inc., based in Bloomington, started up in March 2017, founded by faculty and researchers at Indiana and Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts.

Graspable is commercializing software known as Graspable Math that aims to move learning math from paper-and-pencil exercises to first learning online the basic concepts underlying the exercises. The software applies concepts researched by David Landy, a psychology professor at Indiana, who studies high-level perceptions and understanding in numerical and mathematical reasoning. Landy is one of the founders of Graspable, along with Erin Ottmar, professor of psychology and learning sciences at Worcester Tech and former postdoctoral researcher in Landy’s lab, and current postdoc Erik Weitnauer, the company’s CEO.

The Graspable team says learning algebra with paper and pencil requires first mastering its rules, through repetitive exercises that reward successful completion of those exercises. Minor errors, like confusing pluses and minuses, take extra time for corrections and frustrate the students, leaving little time or patience to gain an understanding of algebra’s underlying concepts.

“Graspable Math, our flagship technology,” says Weitnauer in an Indiana University statement, “creates a safe space for students to explore rules, concepts and applications at the same time. It also provides immediate feedback on every algebraic step in a derivation.”

With the software, students and teachers interact with a simulated white board called a canvas, and a sidebar that changes static math symbols into dynamic expressions. Students write algebraic notations on the canvas and experiment with different notations to see their effects on outcomes. The students’ experiences can be shared and monitored step-by-step with teachers. The software also includes a learning game for students and other learning tools for teachers.

The Graspable Math team tested the software at middle schools in Virginia, Massachusetts, and Maine, where they found students pick up the underlying mathematical concepts faster than with traditional notations. The software is also being tested at the college level at the joint Indiana and Purdue University campus in Indianapolis.

Weitnauer says Graspable continues to develop new content for the software, including lesson materials, assessments, and new games. The company is also seeking partners among other educational technology enterprises. Landy and Weitnauer tell more about Graspable and demonstrate the software in the following video.

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