The University of Massachusetts Amherst

IDS researchers awarded NSF grant to develop innovative math curriculum for diverse students

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Developing more inclusive educational practices for mathematical concepts is critical for promoting STEM diversity and science literacy more generally.  Students from underrepresented groups face unique challenges in STEM fields, and the math-heavy content of STEM classes exacerbates this problem. Those from racial/ethnic minority groups are less likely to have a strong math background, and women are more likely to have negative attitudes about their math skill level. To help bridge this learning divide, the NSF has awarded a $300,000 Improving Undergraduate STEM Education (IUSE) grant to Associate Professors Jeffrey Starns (psychological and brain sciences), Andrew Cohen (psychological and brain sciences) and Darrell Earnest (teacher education and curriculum studies) for a project entitled "Effect of visualization on students’ understanding of probability concepts in an innovative learning module."

This team will develop and test an instructional program in probabilistic reasoning that is designed to help students overcome both objective and subjective math challenges by linking mathematical concepts to an intuitive visualization. They are creating an instructional module based on the visualization technique and will compare it to a standard, equation-based module.  Participants in the study include both low- and high-scoring students on a test of general math abilities. Starns, Cohen, and Earnest predict that the visualization module will be particularly helpful for students who struggle with math.

This NSF grant built upon the team's IDS seed grant project, which is testing the impact of this visualization technique on students with learning disabilities. Read more about the IDS research project