Monday, June 11, 2018

Making Math Graspable

When Dan Meyer invites me to try something (ok, even if the invitation wasn't directed strictly at me), I try it. That's why when I saw this

I tried this:
This crazy magic is Graspable Math and allows you to use some basic gestures (drag, tap, double tap) to do algebra. After I made the clip you see above, I showed it to my high school freshman son and his eyes twinkled. "Wow, Mom. That's awesome."

Or is it?

Dan described some reasons to be skeptical about the tool. You can (and should) read his post here; Dan postulates that perhaps this tool makes math too easy and reinforces tricks, and perhaps misconceptions, through its use, especially when it is used before students master the content on which the tool is based. I can't disagree with those contentions, but I'm still excited about this tool and here are a few reasons why:

In my class, we solve problems like this:    

With some prodding, my students always figure out how to set them up, but some of them really struggle with how to solve the equation after it is set up. Or they have the general idea of how to solve, but they make a mistake getting to the answer and become discouraged about chemistry because of an algebraic mistake. I like the idea of using Graspable Math to solve because then the math wouldn't slow down their understanding of chemistry.

I also love the idea of using Graspable Math to make videos of my solution steps (for problems like the above or any problems). Sure, I can do this with lots of tools, but I thought it was very easy to quickly solve the problem and record my iOS screen. The strength of Graspable Math over other tools is the speed with which I can make expressions that look like textbook math and not like my messy screencast handwriting. Kids could watch the videos to see each step of the algebra I did in class, in the order I did it, to help them at home. Or if they missed class entirely. 

Graspable Math also has potential for teaching inquiry lessons. I wonder if the tool could be used to demonstrate a certain property or process in order to ask students why the process makes mathematical sense. Or, given several similar equations, kids could use the tool to solve and then deduce what they all have in common.

This next idea relies on a perfect world. In a perfect world, I like the idea of using Graspable Math to teach students to check their work. I can see where, especially with students that struggle to make sense of algebra, this tool makes checking work at home, with parents who might want to help but don't feel equipped, a cinch. And, sure, kids could take the value they found for x and plug it back into an equation to check it without Graspable Math. Except that 99% of students won't actually do that and if they have made an algebra mistake on the way to the answer, they are probably equally likely to make one checking the work.

Once upon a time I enrolled my two children in Montessori school because of the public school kindergarten requirement of a calculator. In the same way that I didn't want them to learn operations via calculator, I wouldn't use Graspable Math to teach algebra. Still, it looks like a neat tool, one that I hope I can incorporate at the right time in my teaching. If nothing else, it's good for teachers to know that it's out there because our students will find it. And use it. With our help, maybe they will use it for good.

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