The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Reforming math education to improve STEM success for diverse students

Jeffrey Starns, Andrew Cohen, Darrell Earnest

From left: Jeffrey Starns (psychological & brain sciences), Andrew Cohen (psychological & brain Sciences), and Darrell Earnest (teacher education and curriculum studies)

Everyday we calculate odds to make decisions on everything from our health to our finances. Making these decisions efficiently is key to improving our lives and bettering society. If calculating statistics is difficult for most people, students with learning disabilities face unique challenges. Developing more inclusive educational practices for mathematical concepts is thus critical to our societal needs and to developing accessible STEM education. So, what if we could teach statistics visually first, then connect this understanding with equations? Would this improve learning for students of diverse ability?

With a seed grant from IDS, a multi-disciplinary team of cognitive psychologists and education researchers is tacking this question. Associate Professors Jeffrey Starns (psychological and brain sciences), Andrew Cohen (psychological and brain sciences), Darrell Earnest (teacher education and curriculum studies), and Ph.D. student John Vargas (psychological and brain sciences) are working together to develop and test an instructional program in probabilistic reasoning that is designed to help students with learning disabilities overcome both objective and subjective math challenges by linking mathematical concepts to an intuitive visualization. Another goal of the project is to provide valuable multi-disciplinary research experience to graduate students. This project led this team to develop a wider grant proposal for the Improving Undergraduate STEM Education (IUSE) program at the NSF, which they were awarded. Read more about this team's NSF grant research.