How important is abstract algebra to business

16.08.2016 10:38

Mathematics to feel

Eberhard Scholz Press office
University of Bremen

In the future, interactive objects will help schoolchildren to understand abstract concepts of algebra more intuitively.

The concepts of algebra were first described around 2000 years ago, but they continue to be a major challenge for schoolchildren. Teachers can also find it difficult to convey the abstract material. A joint project led by the Technology Center for Computer Science and Information Technology at the University of Bremen (TZI) is intended to help learners in the future to understand the concepts with different senses. To this end, the latest findings from mathematics didactics are combined with the technical solutions of the TCI in the “Multimodal Algebra Learning” (MAL) project. Scientists from the Competence Center for Clinical Studies at the University of Bremen and the ifib - Institute for Information Management Bremen GmbH - a research institute at the university - are also involved in the interdisciplinary project. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research is funding MAL as part of the “Experiential Learning” funding priority until May 2019 with just under 1.4 million euros; the total project volume amounts to 1.8 million euros.

Algebra is the focus of the project because it plays a central role in education. "Everything that is taught in mathematics from the 8th grade onwards has an algebraic background," explains Professor Angelika Bikner-Ahsbahs from the Didactics in Mathematics working group at the University of Bremen. A good understanding of the concepts is therefore not only important for studying the natural sciences, but also, for example, for vocational school. However, many learners at all stages of training find it difficult to understand and apply abstract algebra concepts such as equations and variables.

Understand with the whole body

The aim of the MAL project is therefore to develop an algebra learning system that conveys these concepts interactively and physically. In this way, learning not only takes place "in the head", but in the whole body - feeling, seeing and hearing. For this purpose, tangible learning elements are developed that represent algebra concepts such as numbers or variables and are equipped with information technology. The learners can arrange these objects or control the system using gestures - and they receive feedback via audio or light signals as to whether they are on the right track.

These “Smart Objects”, which are being developed in the Digital Media working group of Professor Rainer Malaka at the University of Bremen, can be supplemented by displays on interactive tables or tablet PCs. "This is not about classic e-learning, but about using as many senses as possible to support learning," explains TZI Managing Director Dr. Gerald Volkmann.

Individual learning requires less direct supervision

The results of the project should also benefit the teachers, who are often not in a position to provide optimal individual support to all students - especially when the learners are at very different levels. The system should be able to automatically record the level of knowledge of the user by analyzing the solution paths and the speed. A playful design of the exercises can also help to promote motivation.

However, the technologies required must first be developed. In order to guarantee the practical benefit, the technical development goes hand in hand with the didactic research in this project. Professor Bikner-Ahsbahs and her team are continuously investigating how the learning processes work with the new methods and which approaches are particularly promising. In cooperation with the Biometry Department of the Competence Center for Clinical Studies, a concept for evaluating these processes is being developed. Experimenting with gestures while learning is a relatively young field: “Research in didactics is increasingly showing how important gestures can be for understanding mathematics,” explains the scientist. A simple example is showing percentages with your hands. "With our gestures, we sometimes understand things that the head is not even aware of," says Bikner-Ahsbahs.

Schulbuchverlag Westermann develops learning content

In order to transfer the findings to the classrooms after the end of the project, the editors of the secondary mathematics / natural sciences department of the Westermann publishing group under the direction of Dr. Dirk Wenderoth was involved as a project partner - this is where the learning content is developed, adapted to existing textbooks and made available to schools. Bremen-based consultancy xCon Partners will also be there, contributing its know-how in the use of data glasses and other wearables, i.e. interactive technologies that can be worn on the body.

Meanwhile, the Institute for Information Management Bremen focuses on safeguarding the ethical, legal and social aspects when using the new technologies in the classroom. The aim is to ensure that these factors are taken into account as early as the development process and not - as is so often the case with technical products - afterwards. Finally, the competence center for clinical studies will examine the effect of the MAL system.

Additional Information:

University of Bremen
Technology Center for Computer Science and Information Technology at the University of Bremen (TZI)
Axel Koelling
Tel. 0421 33 65 99 50
Email [email protected]

Features of this press release:
Journalists, teachers / pupils, students, scientists
Information technology, mathematics, pedagogy / education
Research projects