July 12, 2007 Can kids finally get the answer to the perennial question: What do we need to study math for? The latest development of Prof. Michal Yerushalmy, of the Institute for Alternatives in Education of the Faculty of Education at the University of Haifa, may indeed have the answer to this question, through a medium that today's youth understand very well --their cellular telephones.
Researchers have developed an educational, mobile math lab application for cell phones, providing students with experiential, interactive ways to learn math. Problems, graphs and functions can be sent to others via text messaging.
The applications that Prof. Yerushalmy developed, in cooperation with Arik Weizman and Zohar Shavit of the University of Haifa Computer Science Department with support from Eurocom Israel, can be installed on most cellular phones on the market today.
When installed, they enable cellular phones to function like computers which, among other things, are able to perform mathematical functions at different levels -- from elementary school geometry to high school level calculus. The applications were developed specifically for the educational system, and they can be used like any application installed on a cell phone. The availability of the medium means that students are no longer reliant on computer classrooms in the school and that educational opportunities are as mobile as students are.
"I believe that mathematics needs to be learned in creative ways, and not by memorization and repetition. Just as physics and biology labs teach through experimentation, I believe that there should also be math labs, where learning is experiential," said Prof. Yerushalmy. According to Prof. Yerushalmy, computerized math labs like these have been developed in the past, but the cost of computers and the limited availability of computer classrooms limited their use. Cellular phone applications are accessible to both teachers and students on the school campus, on the way home or just about anywhere else.
Using cellular telephones provides another advantage: enabling creation of a community of learners. The applications enable users to send graphs and formulas to one another as short text messages (SMS), allowing them to work together to solve problems and involve any number of people to share in the learning process.
A pilot research project, recently completed in the University of Haifa Faculty of Education, evaluated students' use of the applications. As part of the research, participants recorded simple occurrences such as the speed of a dripping faucet, buses pulling away from a bus stop and a number of other events with the video cameras on their cell phones. They were then instructed by Dr. Galit Botzer, who conducted the research, to turn their video clip into a mathematical model using the applications available on their cell phone.
"It was important for us to see whether or not the students actually do use their phone as a medium for communication to help solve the problem. We found that they did indeed use text messaging to send one another information, questions and comments at different times and from different places. Our next step is to engage in more intensive research, and to develop additional, unique applications for cellular phones," said Dr. Botzer.
The program can be downloaded from http://www.math4mobile.com.
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