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NMSU researchers taking a bite out of math

Researchers at New Mexico State University are using a $3.5 million National Science Foundation grant to create Math Snacks, short animations and games for middle school students aimed at making math concepts more understandable.

New Mexico State University researchers have released a free downloadable application for iPhone and iPod Touch called Pearl Diver, a mini-game that facilitates understanding of equality on a number line. Pearl Diver can be found at http://mathsnacks.org. (NMSU Courtesy Image)

Designed to be used as homework to prepare for class or to introduce a topic in a fun way, the short "snacks" will impact the middle school math learner during critical learning years, said Barbara Chamberlin, director of NMSU's Learning Games Lab, who will serve as the development director on the project.

"Learning is inherently fun when it is understandable and relevant. These snacks have the potential to help with any type of math instruction," Chamberlin said.

Karin Wiburg, associate dean for research in the College of Education and lead investigator on the project, said Math Snacks will look at gaps in learning and develop games and animations that fill those gaps.

"Kids love games and games allow you to teach in a way that makes students want to learn," Wiburg said. "In addition, we want to learn more about how kids learn and how playing is related to learning."

Ted Stanford, an NMSU associate professor of math working as a math content specialist on the project, said the Math Snacks will address critical holes in middle school math instruction.

"Math Snacks will address what they really need to know. It will help them in high school and beyond," Stanford said.

Stanford said kids who come out of high school with a solid understanding of math concepts have more opportunities.

"Really getting one math concept can carry a student a long way," Stanford said. "We want this project to be a model for incorporating technology into learning in a meaningful way."

Wiburg, Chamberlin and Stanford, along with others on the development and research team, have worked together on previous grants and have an established team that works well together, Chamberlin said. This collaborative project includes faculty from NMSU's colleges of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, Arts and Sciences and Education.

The team had the chance to share their project at an Education Technology Showcase for U.S. senators in Washington, D.C., this month. They were one of only a few invited by the National Science Foundation to participate.

"Together, we are trying to change learning in important ways," Chamberlin said. "Math concepts build on top of each other. If we can get middle school students to understand that, we will be making a big difference. This project will contribute to research nationally on how to teach math. This real-world application of applying research to learning is a strong example of this institution's outreach work."

Based on trials from a previous grant, project development has been moving forward quickly this fall and the project has released a free downloadable application for iPhone and iPod Touch called Pearl Diver, a mini-game that facilitates understanding of equality on a number line. Pearl Diver and other Math Snacks from the previous grant can be found at mathsnacks.org.

Broadcast Advisory: Researchers are using animation and video games to help middle school students learn important math concepts. Video and sound bites are available for this news release under the title "NMSU Learning Games Lab" at the following ftp site: ftp://aggievision:goaggies@aggievision.nmsu.edu username: aggievision, password: goaggies. For technical questions, contact Minerva Baumann at (575) 646-7566 or mbauma46@nmsu.edu.