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February 7, 2014
CONTACT: K.E. Schwab

SRU launches I-THINK research project

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Everyone knows two plus two is four, but few can explain how they reached the answer. Students involved in Slippery Rock University Jeremy Lynch's "I-THINK" research will soon be able to explain their conclusions.

Lynch, an assistant professor of special education in SRU's College of Education, is using a $4,567 grant from the University's joint Faculty/Student Research Grants Program to support "I THINK: A Framework for Improving Mathematical Problem Skills;" a project in conjunction with a local elementary schools.

LYNCHAdelaide Aukamp from Pequea and Danielle Dulick from Lower Burrell, both early childhood development majors, are student researchers involved in the project.

The I-THINK project was one of 11 faculty/student research grants awarded by SRU's Office of Academic Affairs for 2014.

Lynch said he developed the project in response to Pennsylvania's new Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, which demands more critical thinking from Pennsylvania school students.

"Many school systems, in connection with the core standards, are demanding an increase in discourse and reasoning within mathematical problem-solving from their students," he said. "Essentially it means that teachers are now expecting their students, even at the elementary level, to be able to justify their reasoning, or 'show their work," not only arrive at the correct answer," he said.

The I-THINK problem-solving framework he and his fellow researchers will implement in collaboration with actual classroom teachers of second-, third- and fourth-graders, supports these new requirements by encouraging students to analyze a problem both on their own and cooperatively with fellow students. "They must consider solution strategies, monitor their efforts and justify their solution," he said. The team is in discussions with a local school and its board of education to begin the project later this year.

The six-week study will involve some 150 elementary school children. Some will be in a control class, receiving a different framework that can then be used for data comparison, he said.

"We are now gearing up the teachers who are willing to try the process, or framework, in their classrooms. We will spend part of spring semester with the teachers going over the process of how we expect the actual student learning to take place and showing them methods to help the students adapt to new ways of thinking about math problems - and other problems," he said.

"The purpose of this research is to investigate whether the use of the I-THINK framework, implemented in three mathematics classrooms, can lead to improved problem-solving abilities by the young students. We are also aiming to examine the problem-solving performance of various sub-groups of students, including students with disabilities, students who are English language learners and those receiving Title 1 services," he said.

The study will utilize a nonequivalent control group design consisting of a pre-assessment, a six-week instructional cycle and a post-assessment, Lynch said. "The study will contribute to the fields of mathematics and special education research."

Dulick said she got interested in the research project "because it is a unique opportunity that not many students will have. I will have a deeper background in literacy by the end of my program, so I feel this project will make me a more well-rounded educator."

"I hope to gain a better understanding of how the I THINK model works and how it benefits students. In my fieldwork and student teaching, I have watched students struggle with math content and have attempted to use various methods to teach the course content. Becoming familiar with this model will help me to better help my students in the future," she said.

"I think I might use the results of the research when I am teaching in my own classroom. I may choose to use this model to help my students understand the content in a more effective way," Dulick said.

Lynch explains the actual implementation will see teachers giving their students more math word problems such as, "You are at the swimming pool. You have to meet your mother at the Coffee Shop at 2:30. At what time do you have to leave the pool to be on time?"

He said the children will have to identify the variables - how long will it take to get dressed; how long does it take to get to the store; some will consider the mode of transportation, walking, biking, using a bus, or making arrangements for a ride as part of their problem-solving.

The teacher will initially serve as a facilitator to get the students accustomed to thinking about all of the necessary issues involved in reaching the problem's solution, Lynch said.

"Ultimately, we want to see the thought process behind getting to the answer and help the students develop their problem-solving or critical-thinking skills as part of that process," he said.

"The teacher may have to initially encourage the thinking by asking questions, and as we move through the weeks, hopefully the students will see how to improve their overall thinking - and questioning abilities - as part of their problem-solving, skills," he said.

While the word problem may start with an individual student, there will also be opportunities to expand the problem's answer to small groups, which will further increase the students ability to cooperate in a group and to learn to be involved in group activities and learning, he said.

"We will be working to improve the cognitive and metacognitive skills when solving mathematical problems," he said. "We hope it will eventually allow for the assignment of more complex mathematical problems and that the students will have developed their thinking skills to a level that they can attack the problem and find a solution on their own."

"I-THINK is a process that allows student to learn through walking them through a series of steps that explore their thinking about how they actually approach a problem, both individually and collectively," Lynch said.

"The students may then be asked, 'Why did you solve the problem in that way,' and thus will be justifying their reasonsing. It will help them better understand their own thinking," he said. "It will show their teacher how the students are learning, possibly leading to a revision of the teaching methods to better meet their needs."

"Under Pennsylvania's new Department of Education standards, students are being required to be able to go more in depth in their learning in a number of areas, not just solving math problems. They must justify their reasons, and explain their steps used to reach the solution," Lynch said. "The state is requiring verbal answers, not just the problem's solution."

"The process may also show students there are multiple ways to solve a problem, and in some cases multiple answers," he said.

He said the I-THINK program could eventually expand to all grade levels. The research project will involve both pre-test and post-test of the students to see what gains or losses can be found.

Lynch said he and his researchers will analyze the finding and possibly present them

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