J. Dinapoli 1, M. Amenya1, L. Van Den Einde2, N. Delson2, E. Cowan3

1Montclair State University (UNITED STATES)
2University of California, San Diego (UNITED STATES)
3eGrove Education, Inc. (UNITED STATES)
Perseverance in the face of obstacles is integral for the conceptual learning of mathematics. Yet, for students to persevere with a challenging task they need ample support from skilled teachers. Such support includes monitoring student thinking closely to provide productive feedback at moments when students are on the verge of giving up. This type of attentive support is difficult for teachers to provide, now more than ever as many schools have transitioned from face-to-face to remote learning in response to COVID19. Incorporating digital technology can help this transition, but mathematics education applications tend to rely on routine-based learning with limited ability to offer personalized, conceptual feedback in response to student mistakes.

This exploratory study aimed to show how a new application called Drawn2Math (D2M) can help keep K-6 students engaged with challenging mathematics tasks and support their perseverance to learn mathematics conceptually. Our participants were 10 fourth-grade students who were learning about fractions for the first time. D2M is based on digital assignments for which students freehand sketch visual representations to solve conceptual fractions tasks. Ultimately, a grading algorithm will provide personalized feedback when students submit an incorrect answer. The feedback is predefined, informed by research. To test the validity of this system, a Wizard of Oz usability experiment was conducted in which students sketched on an iPad and received predefined feedback on their screen, but the feedback was administered by a remotely observing researcher acting as the grading algorithm. The feedback was designed to meet the child at their current stage of thinking and support them to stay engaged and persevere with their problem-solving, even after making a mistake. We analyzed participants’ engagement using a qualitative tool designed to measure perseverance on challenging mathematics tasks.

Our findings showed that participants working on tasks within D2M were able to leverage the personalized feedback to persevere with the task, even at moments when they were most challenged and frustrated. All 10 participants showed evidence of this kind of success. All participants made a sketching mistake during their initial attempt at solving, but the feedback helped them stay engaged and continue to make progress. Most participants made several sketching mistakes while working on a task, yet they stayed mathematically engaged. Participants persevered on these tasks despite working on them alone, without a teacher present. Additionally, our interview data showed that participants enjoyed working with D2M, even amidst struggle, because they believed the feedback was helping them improve mathematically. These findings suggest this mathematics education technology can help students stay engaged with challenging mathematics and learn conceptually, even when working remotely. Future research will implement an automated sketch-recognition algorithm and feedback generator to simulate a skilled teacher, followed by a classroom trial to show D2M’s effect at scale. This continued research will provide important contributions to advancing theory of how personalized feedback within a technology platform impacts perseverance in remote settings, and whether this will translate to conceptual learning when used in conjunction with teacher instruction - two important goals in the post-COVID19 education landscape.