Collaborative Touch Desks Help Students Learn Math Together

The NumberNet classroom allows for collective education via tactile 'smartboards.'

Alice Chan
Alice Chan on November 29, 2012.

The subject of mathematics has always posed difficulties for some students. While mathematical fluency can be developed with continual practice, designing activities that support flexibility in mathematics has proven to be more difficult. Britain’s Durham University has developed and tested a 3-year project that involves high-tech desks in teaching students mathematics. The multi-touch classroom consisted of NumberNet desks that are capable of responding to touch-based commands from several students. The technology behind these desks, a system that detects infrared light, allows groups of students to work together to improve their mathematical skills.

Lead researcher Professor Liz Burd says of the study:

Our aim was to encourage far higher levels of active student engagement, where knowledge is obtained by sharing, problem-solving and creating, rather than by passive listening. This classroom enables both active engagement and equal access. We found our tables encouraged students to collaborate more effectively.

Teachers receive a live feed of all the desks and could collect and send out problem sets to the desks. The classroom also includes a main smartboard on which the teacher could pull up the work to be completed together. Video analysis of the NumberNet groups indicate that the opportunity to collaborate, and learn from other groups’ expressions, have increased the students’ flexibility and fluency in solving mathematical problems. Results from the study of 86 students showed that 45 percent of the students using the desks increased the number of unique mathematical expressions they can solve, while only 16 percent of students working on traditional paper saw the same sort of increase.

NumberNet Study on Learning and Instruction Journal