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Texas Instruments grant puts handheld computers in Ohio math classrooms

May 31, 2011

To improve mathematics education in Ohio schools, Ohio University’s Advanced Teacher Capacity team is providing TI-nspire handheld computers to twelve middle and high school algebra, geometry, and statistics classrooms throughout Ohio during the 2010–11 school year.

The initiative is part of the team’s Modeling and Spatial Reasoning (Modspar) professional development program (PD), which focuses on making connections between real-world experiences and mathematical concepts. Donated by Texas Instruments through a $54,000 grant, the TI-nspire computers allow students to see a math problem as a graph, table, chart, or even as a 2- or 3-dimensional geometric model—instantly.

Cool Tools
Illustration: Christina Ullman.

“We have been conducting professional development programs for a few years now, but one piece of feedback we heard from teachers was that they could do so much more if the students had their own technology,” explains Gregory Foley, Robert L. Morton Professor of Mathematics Education.

In many classroom situations, students are asked only to memorize and reproduce. The Modspar PD program encourages teachers to take tasks a step further, asking students to use complex and nonalgorithmic thinking and show evidence of reasoning and understanding. With TI-nspire computers, students are more easily able to make connections to the concepts or meanings that underlie the facts, rules, formulas, or definitions being memorized.

The twelve teachers selected for the study participated in a two-week summer institute at Ohio University.

Gregory Foley
Gregory Foley.

“Four teachers received classroom sets of handheld computers at the beginning of the school year, four will receive their classroom sets in January, and the final four will receive them at the end of the year,” says Mary Harmison, project manager for Modspar, which is funded by the Improving Teacher Quality program through the Ohio Board of Regents.

The TI-nspire Computer Algebra System is a powerful software package that runs in a handheld format, Foley adds. “Students will have a suite of mathematical tools at their fingertips, allowing the teachers to present more intellectually demanding challenges,” he says.

Foley’s team, consisting largely of doctoral students, will analyze student work samples and will visit each participant’s classroom four times during the school year to evaluate the teachers’ use of cognitively demanding tasks. Teachers also will receive ongoing follow-up support from the Modspar team, who will evaluate how the availability of handheld computer technology in the classroom changes teachers’ methods of instruction and student learning.

By R. Devin Hughes

This article appears in the Spring/Summer 2011 issue of Perspectives magazine.