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‘TinkerPlots’ aims to raise student interest in learning

A new style of learning called TinkerPlots is being tested within the coursework of Chestnut Hill Elementary, Fort River and Lynch Middle School in Holyoke.

TinkerPlots Dynamic Data Exploration is a software program developed by Key Curriculum Press. The program is designed specifically to get students between grades four and eight excited about learning from data analysis. Through the use of visual representations, students recognize patterns and can build a strong foundation in mathematics.

In a release, Cliff Konold and Craig Miller of the University of Massachusetts’s Scientific Reasoning Research Institute said there is a need for higher “data literacy.” Konold points out a desire for students to relate real-life situations to numbers.

“The health care debate is driven by interpretations of data, as is the debate about global warming. It’s a new world, and today’s young people need to learn to think in new ways and cultivate skills that allow them to understand and make sound arguments based on data.”

The two UMass professors have received a $1.7 million grant from the National Science Foundation to refine a new version of the TinkerPlots learning system. With the third version of this educational software, students in grades five through eight will learn new data literacy techniques. This new software is set to be implemented into Holyoke schools’ curriculum in spring 2010.

The approach of the latest TinkerPlots design is to have kids feel they are playing a game and posing questions on relevant topics to the age levels.

Konold said, “We’ve found that using a computer-based approach is natural for encouraging students to build data sets that they’re truly interested in or that seem like a game to them.”

Examples of student work could include a student debate regarding whether they get too much homework in different grades. They would construct a data set, collecting data from peers on backpack weights and compare weights by grade to see if students in higher grade levels carry heavier workloads.

TinkerPlots currently has two learning systems within school systems across the world. Developed between 2000 and 2009, the first two programs are taught in the United States, Australia, Canada, Israel, New Zealand, Russia and Thailand.

Michelle Williams can be reached at mnwilliams@student.umass.edu.

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