Media Contact:Karla Schuster
202D Hofstra Hall
Send an E-mail
Date: Jun 17, 2011
Hofstra Engineers New Way to Teach Math
$250,000 Grant to Develop Hands-on, Engineering-based Curriculum for Middle School
Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY – The professors knew they were onto something when the kids began to argue.
It was a middle school math class, and the students were hashing out how to design and build a skyscraper to specific volume, ratio and area specifications – an exercise in geometric reasoning that is at the heart of a new curriculum called WISEngineering, which is being developed by Dr. David Burghardt, Principal Investigator, engineering professor and co-director of Hofstra University’s Center for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Research.
The WISEngineering project recently won a $250,000 national grant to expand the curriculum and assess its effectiveness in a high-needs school district. The Next Generation Learning Challenges grant program, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, seeks to promote innovative, hands-on and technology-based curriculum to improve high school graduation rates and college readiness, particularly among high-needs students.
Hofstra is partnering with the Paterson, N.J. public schools as part of this national initiative. Burghardt and Donna Midgol, an adjunct education professor who also teaches in the Oceanside (Long Island) school district, conducted preliminary research on the geometric reasoning/skyline design part of the curriculum in one of Migdol’s classes.
The idea behind concepts like the skyscraper exercise, Burghardt said, is not just to make learning math fun. It’s to make learning math necessary to complete the task. The students use ModelMakerTM software to create an architectural drawing of the skyscraper, and use a special printer, a digital fabricator, that produces a hard copy of the design that is cut-out and ready to put together.
“Using design problems creates a need to know and gets them engaged,” Burghardt said, “so they’re willing to learn this stuff.”
After the skyline design exercise, Midgol’s students posted a 23 percent increase in their math skills, Burghardt said. Also telling, 14 percent more of the class rated themselves excellent math students after the exercise.
Burghardt is collaborating with co-principal investigators Dr. Jennifer Chiu at the University of Virginia and Dr. Deborah Hecht at City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center. Hofstra’s WISEngineering project was one of 19 recipients of Next Generation Challenge Grants, which included non-profit organizations, state agencies, colleges and universities.
Hofstra University is a dynamic private institution where students can choose from more than 150 undergraduate and 160 graduate programs in liberal arts and sciences, business, communication, education and allied health services and honor studies, as well as a School of Law and the Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine.