Znak Politechniki Warszawskiej

How to tame the math monster

The online platform is already used by students, mainly from schools in Warsaw and its surrounding areas; photo: Warsaw Municipal Office Wola District

The online platform is already used by students, mainly from schools in Warsaw and its surrounding areas; photo: Warsaw Municipal Office Wola District

Dull, boring, hard or even irrelevant or devoid of reality in the form we know it from school handbooks. These are the common conceptions of mathematics. Can you break that stereotype? Yes, you can! Scientists of the Warsaw University of Technology do just this.

“The current math teaching practice largely follows a one-fits-all approach; all students in a classroom have the same math exercise book and do exercises one by one,” says Łukasz Błaszczyk, Ph.D., Eng. of the WUT Faculty of Mathematics and Information Sciences. “But there are groups which do not fit in this system. Those are students who will make errors in the very first exercise and those who will be bored, having done three similar exercises in a row.”

A tailor-made solution

The project entitled “Matematyka – wstęp do kariery wynalazcy” (“Mathematics: Kick-Starter to an Inventor Career”) aims to avoid that. This is a world-unique online platform.

“Students are assigned exercises which match their previous performance, abilities, expectations or typical errors,” Dr Błaszczyk explains. “We thus lift some burden off the teacher’s shoulders because it is the system that automatically picks exercises. It is all done within the program using Artificial Intelligence-based algorithms on the existing data collected on the entire population of students participating in the project.”

The system is designed so as to assign an easier task to a failing student rather than give them a ready-made solution to help them find the root cause of their problem and catch up. And the cycle repeats until success. On the other hand, students storming through tasks are given more difficult exercises to push them further and stimulate their development.

The project is addressed to students in the fourth grade of elementary school. This is a crucial stage on the learning path as this is when the division into specific and independent subjects first occurs. This often has serious consequences such as learning problems.

Inspired by computer games

The database compiled by the WUT scientists contains ready-made exercises which are fully consistent with the curriculum and necessary to understand a specific topic. However, teachers can create their custom exercise sets.

The look and feel is an important aspect of the platform. The authors have made an effort to make it visually appealing.

“We have also implemented a task scoring system,” adds Dr Błaszczyk. “Students are awarded badges for moving up the levels.” Just as in a computer game.

Aid for students and for teachers

Currently, the project is in the pilot phase. So far, following consultations with the competent local government and school authorities, the project has been implemented for testing in selected classes, mainly in Warsaw and its surrounding areas. Extending the project’s reach is scheduled for the next year, with particular focus on schools in rural areas. The project’s target is to enroll 500 students but the authors are thinking of further growth and scaling-up to a nationwide level.

“At this time, we are encouraging teachers to use the project to support homework,” says Dr Błaszczyk. “Students can do self-tests. This way, teachers are relieved from the checking. Certainly, they have access to the program statistics. They can see how much time it has taken students to solve the assigned tasks and what errors they have made. Teachers will also know that, for instance, a major part of the group have had problems with certain tasks and that would be the material to be refreshed in class.

“We want to break the myths about math,” says Dr Błaszczyk. “We are committed to instill interest in mathematical issues in students as early as possible so that they would consider science as a study choice in the future.” It is because mathematics is not meant just for a select few.

 

Agnieszka Kapela

Promotion and Information Office

 

More about the project: https://power.mini.pw.edu.pl/

Project duration: July 2, 2018 to June 30, 2020

Project “Matematyka – wstęp do kariery wynalazcy” (POWR.03.01.00-00-U192/17-00) is funded by the European Social Fund under the Operational Program Knowledge Education Development 2014–2020.