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Friday, January 4, 2013

Spatial Temporal Math - Is it Spatial?

Students in Costa Mesa, California, via funding from Hyundai, are testing out a new math teaching environment in a new laboratory. The teaching program is called ST Math. The ST refer to "spatial" and "temporal," respectively. Curious? So was I!

The program is from MIND Research Institute:
The MIND Research Institute enables elementary and secondary students to reach their full academic and career potential through developing and deploying math instructional software and systems. A non-profit organization, MIND also conducts basic neuroscientific, mathematics, and education research to improve math education and advance scientific understanding.
The ST Math program introduces concepts without language or symbols. Only after the visualization is mastered are the symbols introduced. The interactive environment for each topic involves a penguin traveling along the road. Jiji runs into all sorts of missing bridges (obstacles). I guess his city has limited funds for infrastructure... Anyway, students interact with floating blocks to fill the holes to allow Jiji to continue on. It makes more sense once you watch the video, try actual exercises and enjoy the "games" (choose the "games" link under programs in the menu).

I could not find any particular discussion of the spatial aspect of the materials or what spatial thinking skills, if any, are addressed. I did, however, identify the "Upright Jiji" game, where the player rotates Jiji to standing, as very spatial. It's fun, too!

Working the exercises and games reminded me of three things. First, it reminded me of the colored wooden "sticks" we used to learn addition in grade school circa 1972. I recall enjoying playing with them, but can't say how, or if, they helped me learn.

Second, ST Math reminded me of Motion Math (which I wrote about early in 2012). While Jiji doesn't involve physically moving my laptop, I do see touch versions are available and expect motion will be integrated in the future. The key similarity is the intense and simple graphic representations of the challenges and the clear, rock solid progression from basic to more complex problems.

Finally, ST Math reminded me of an early online teaching tool, PLATO (Wikipedia), that I used in college to learn physics. It was not as flashy as ST Math, but included some of the same visual elements and the progression of lessons from easier to more challenging. I loved PLATO and probably spent more time on it (we had two terminals in Eckhart Hall) than anyone else in 130s physics in 1983. I got an A in physics; I credit PLATO and a great professor, Isaac Abella.

The single thing that ties ST Math, Motion Math and even PLATO together, for me, is that all of these implementations made me 100% confident I could learn the topic at hand. It might take me a few times through each exercise, but I could figure it out. Having a computer program, or an instructor, that can instill that confidence in a student is pretty special. When I think back on my favorite instructors from grade 1 to graduate school, they all gave me that confidence. I'm intrigued that a computer program can do the same thing.

- Math Lab opening press release via THE Journal via SmartBrief on EdTech

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