Technology-Supported Mathematics Environments: Telecollaboration in a Secondary Statistics Classroom

Article excerpt

Introduction

The Internet, an exciting and radically different medium infiltrating pop culture, business, and education, is also a powerful educational tool with teaching and learning potential for mathematics. Web-based instructional tools allow students and teachers to actively and interactively participate in the learning process (Lynch, Moyer, Frye & Suh, 2002). The ways teachers use these tools can have a profound effect on the teaching and learning of mathematics.

One way web-based instructional tools can be used in teaching and learning mathematics is through telecollaboration. Harris (1998) defines three categories of "telecollaboration" activities: interpersonal exchange, information collection and analysis, and problem solving. Under these three categories are 18 activity structures that can be used to classify and describe the types of web-based learning projects and activities currently used in education. These structures range from "keypals," which enables students to collaborate on a specific curriculum-based task via email to "parallel problem-solving," which lets students solve problems together and share their solutions and problem-solving processes. Each structure allows students and teachers to use various forms of technology to communicate and collaborate around a common goal.

Telecollaboration has the potential to create authentic contexts and problem-solving environments for students, ultimately providing students with opportunities to apply their mathematics skills in a real-world context outside of the classroom. This article describes how one teacher used a telecollaboration project in his high school statistics course. It demonstrates how effective technology use can enhance students' learning of challenging mathematics content.

Choosing a telecollaboration project

An abundant supply of telecollaboration projects currently exist. Some projects are conducted synchronously on a fixed timeline while others take place asynchronously with ongoing timelines. Announcements of new and ongoing projects appear on listservs and in newsletters on a regular basis. The authors learned about the project chosen in this article through the HILITES listserv (gsn-hilites-list@topica.com) distributed by Global Schoolnet's Global Schoolhouse Organization (http://www.gsn.org/lists/hilites.html).

Choosing an appropriate telecollaboration project is important. Teachers should search for a project on the topic they wish to explore and then review all of the information provided before deciding to participate. In addition to curriculum connections, teachers need to consider many other elements including timelines, interaction requirements, availability of technology and technical support at their schools, required supplies and materials, and school or district restrictions related to student access to email or the Internet. Teachers may want to consider choosing a simple project or participating with another teacher in the building for their first telecollaboration experiences.

The target in this case was a high school statistics course, so the project search was fairly narrow. The authors wanted to find a synchronous project that would take place near the beginning of the spring semester of the school year to coincide with the beginning of the statistics course for the semester. An information collection and analysis telecollaboration project called Fruit Loops to the Max: Online Project Spring 2003 was selected (www.technospud.com/projects/frootloops/ frootloops.htm). This project was directed by Jennifer Wagner of Technospud.com (http://www.technospud.com). The timeline was a perfect match, and the content fitted very well with the plans for the course. Two high school statistics classes registered for the project.

The Fruit Loops telecollaboration project attracted over 300 participating classes from five countries. This amounted to hundreds of thousands of Fruit Loops counted and reported which resulted in an extensive database of information. …