Project MathVote (2010-2012) Summary

Project Team: Kelly Cline (PI, Carroll College), Holly Zullo (Co-PI, Carroll College), Jean McGivney-Burelle (University of Hartford), Kathy Shay (Middlesex County College), Ann Stewart (Hood College), Christopher Storm (Adelphi University), Lahna VonEpps (Columbia College)

Classroom voting has emerged as a very powerful teaching technique to improve student learning in the STEM disciplines. This method engages students by requiring every person in the class to consider a multiple choice or true/false question, to form an opinion, and to participate by voting on the correct answer, often using a hand held "clicker." The results of voting provide immediate feedback as to the students' level of understanding both to the instructor and to each student when the correct answer is revealed. There have been numerous studies about the use of this teaching method in collegiate mathematics (Pilzer 2001; Schlatter 2002; Terrell 2003; Lomen & Robinson 2004; Butler 2005; Blodgett 2006; Cline 2006; Lucas 2008) and all report how much students enjoy this teaching method and how it can create a positive and engaging learning environment. Further, a recent study at Cornell (Sanatana-Vega 2004; Miller, Sanatana-Vega, and Terrell 2006) provides evidence that classroom voting can be more effective than traditional teaching methods if it is used to motivate students to participate in small group discussions about key conceptual issues before a vote.

However, it is not easy for a mathematics instructor to successfully adopt and use this teaching method for the first time. There are numerous decisions to be made about how the voting will be structured, and significant challenges to be overcome, including how to incorporate voting while still teaching all of the necessary curriculum and how to motivate all students to participate. Thus far, these challenges have been dealt with in many different ways by faculty largely working in isolation at different institutions. In order to advance this promising new pedagogy, it is critical that these individuals combine forces. "Project MathVote" will connect a team of eight faculty with years of experience using classroom voting in a variety of courses at many different types of institutions, including two two-year colleges, a large state university, and a range of private institutions, and including two individuals who have completed graduate work in mathematics education. The diversity of the project team will allow us to develop the general principles of teaching with classroom voting in a way that will apply to a broad range of courses and institutions. Thus, the intellectual merit of this project is contained in our three goals: (1) We will develop a clear understanding of the best practices for teaching with classroom voting by studying the different ways of using this pedagogy. Further, we will learn from the data that classroom voting provides, gathering voting statistics to gain important insight into common student issues and misconceptions. (2) We will write and test a library of over 400 classroom voting questions for use in a variety of courses including college algebra, precalculus, statistics, and integral calculus. (3) We will disseminate our voting questions and our results concerning the use of this pedagogy by giving a series of workshops to mathematics instructors, by giving presentations at mathematics conferences, and by writing papers for publication in journals and newsletters, reporting our results, leading to the broader impact of this work in influencing the greater mathematics community.

This project will begin with a week-long meeting during the summer of year one, in which we will compare our experiences with classroom voting, focus our research methods, and outline the work to be done. During the weeks that follow, we will write approximately 300 new voting questions. Throughout the project, all members of the team will gather data on these and other classroom voting questions in their classes, recording the statistics for each vote (e.g. 40% for (a), 25% for (b), etc.), the time allotted for each vote, and the type of discussion that each question provoked. During the second summer, the team will stay in contact via e-mail, we will correlate our data, we will revise questions and teacher's commentary, and we will write approximately 100 more questions, based on needs identified during year one. During the summer of year three, the project team will meet again to analyze the data collected, organize the writing of papers reporting the findings of this study, make final revisions to the new questions, and design a series of workshops, to be delivered by pairs of team members, communicating the knowledge developed in this project to the mathematics community. An external evaluator will help us with our assessment throughout, reviewing our analysis of the data that we gather through student surveys and voting statistics, the papers written for publication, the new questions produced, and the workshops presented.

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