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The Indiana Daily Student

academics & research

Math professor receives grant to study learning styles in middle school students

The National Science Foundation has given one IU professor $646,479 to conduct a study in different learning styles for math in middle school students.

Amy Hackenberg is an assistant professor of mathematics education in the School of Education and has started conducting the five-year study, a March 3 press release said.

“The research purposes of the project are to try to differentiate instruction in middle school classrooms, which is not a place where differentiated instruction tends to happen,” Hackenberg said in the release.

The drive for nationwide standards like Common Core continues, she said, and there is increasing call for differentiated instruction, which is teaching that adjusts to reach students learning at different levels within the same classroom.

Hackenberg will spend the first two years of her research working directly with
students.

“These are sessions where I’m working on trying to differentiate instruction for diverse learners in a classroom,” she said in the release. “It’s a small number of students — nine at a time — so I can have roughly three different kinds of thinkers in the classroom, and I get a close-in look at their thinking and interaction.”

After those two years, the data will be collected and Hackenberg will use it to develop ideas and materials for classrooms.

“The middle year of the project is to engage in deep analysis of the first two years as well as to start a study group with middle school teachers in the state who want to explore differentiated instruction and experiment with it,” she said. “In the last two years of the project, I’ll be co-teaching with teachers in their classrooms, trying out some of these ideas and materials.”

She said she expects the project to shed light on key points of instruction in students’ academic development.

“It’s really hard to think about what that really looks like at the middle school and high school level in mathematics classroom,” she said.

While math education researchers usually define algebraic reasoning as generalizing ways of thinking with numbers and quantities to develop ideas like equations and functions, students think about number structures and quantities differently, Hackenberg said.

“Students might think about 35 feet as five equal parts, each of which is 7 feet,” she said in the release. “This is three-levels-of-units structure. Some students don’t develop that kind of structure until middle school or possibly even beyond.”

Kathrine Schulze

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