New Worlds: Computers beat blackboards for teaching geometry

Study shows that pupils who learned geometry using an interactive computer program improved by 26 percent compared to those who learned it with a didactic program.

teacher blackboard (photo credit: )
teacher blackboard
(photo credit: )
Pupils who learned geometry using an interactive computer program improved by 26 percent compared to those who learned it with a didactic program that did not allow them to manipulate and create figures, according a new University of Haifa study. Interactive computer programs enable pupils to try out a collection of digital geometric figures at their own pace, said Dr. Michal Maimon-Erez, who conducted the study under the supervision of Prof. Michal Yerushalmi. Fifth graders who learned about hierarchical connections among squares using an interactive computer program were asked to fill out questionnaires before and after the experiment, while some were interviewed face to face. Learning sessions performed by 11 pairs of pupils in front of the computer were videofilmed. Some pupils used a computer program that enabled them to interact dynamically with the figures and create new ones, while the rest were presented with information but were unable to change static figures. At the end of the study, pupils who used interactive computer learning clearly improved their geometrical abilities above those who worked with static figures. Maimon-Erez said that despite the success of computer teaching, the role of school teachers is still vital. The study showed that while pupils who worked interactively on the computer understood the principles, they were not always "persuaded" to change incorrect knowledge, so teachers have much to contribute. "The teacher must be aware of the problems in learning geometry interactively on a computer and ask challenging questions to build new knowledge on the basis of experience," she concluded. "However, being free to construct an endless variety of shapes with a mouse instead of many fewer on a blackboard gives a clear advantage to the computer, which should be integrated more into Israeli schools." ROBOT TO TAKE CARE OF ELDERLY Baby boomers born after World War II are beginning to retire, and robots are ready to help, providing care and improving the quality of life for those in need. University of Massachusetts researchers have developed a robotic assistant that can dial an emergency number if necessary, remind clients to take their medication, help with grocery shopping and enable conversations with loved ones and health care providers. Concerned family members can access the unit and "visit" their elderly parents from any Internet connection; they can also navigate around the home and look for Mom or Dad, who may not hear the phone or may be in need of assistance. Doctors can perform virtual house calls. "For the first time, robots are safe enough and inexpensive enough to do meaningful work in a residential environment," says computer scientist Dr. Rod Grupen, director of the Amhert University's Laboratory for Perceptual Robotics, who developed project ASSIST with computer scientists Allen Hanson and Edward Riseman. The robot, called the uBOT-5, could allow elders to live independently, and provide relief for caregivers, the medical system and community services, which are expected to be severely stressed by the retirement of over 77 million Americans in the next three decades. There is no mistaking the uBot-5 for a person, but its design was inspired by human anatomy. An array of sensors acts as the robot's eyes and ears, allowing it to recognize human activities such as walking or sitting. It can also recognize an abnormal event such as a fall, and notify a remote medical caregiver. Through an interface, the remote service provider may ask the client to speak, smile or raise both arms - movements the robot can demonstrate. If the person is unresponsive, the robot can call an emergency number, alert family and apply a digital stethoscope, conveying information to an emergency medical technician. The system also tracks what isn't human. If a delivery person leaves a package in a hallway, the robot can move the obstruction out of the way. It can also carry a load of about 2.2 pounds, and has the potential to perform household tasks such as cleaning and grocery shopping. The uBOT-5 carries a Web cam, a microphone and a touch- sensitive LCD that acts as an interface for communication with the outside world. "Grandma can take the robot's hand, lead it into the garden and have a virtual visit with a grandchild who is living on the opposite coast," says Grupen. Grupen studied developmental neurology in his quest to create a robot that could do a variety of tasks. The uBot-5's arm motors are analogous to the muscles and joints in our own arms, and it can push itself upright if it falls over. It has a "spinal cord" and the equivalent of an inner ear to keep it balanced on its Segway-like wheels. To evaluate the effectiveness of potential technologies, the research team worked with social workers, members of the medical community and family members of those in elder care.