'Star Trek' style classroom can boost pupils' maths skills

Last Updated: Fri, Nov 23, 2012 10:00 hrs

Blackboards and books, which are the main elements of a present day classroom, could soon be a thing of the past.

Experts at Durham University have designed new multi-touch, multi-user smart desks, which have been nicknamed as the 'Star Trek classroom'.

Results from a three-year project working with over 400 pupils, mostly eight to 10 year olds, show that the desks and software can significantly improve pupils' maths.

Researchers suggested that this classroom could help teachers to use collaborative learning to improve their pupils' flexibility in maths.

"Our aim was to encourage far higher levels of active student engagement, where knowledge is obtained by sharing, problem-solving and creating, rather than by passive listening," the Daily Mail quoted lead researcher, Professor Liz Burd, School of Education, Durham University, as saying.

"This classroom enables both active engagement and equal access. We found our tables encouraged students to collaborate more effectively.

"We were delighted to observe groups of students enhancing others' understanding of mathematical concepts. Such collaboration just did not happen when students used paper-based approaches," Professor Burd stated.

The project called SynergyNet set out to integrate a fully collaborative system of desks, building it into the 'fabric and furniture of the classroom'.

The desks act like multi-touch whiteboards and several students can use any one desk at once. The technology allows all students to take part rather than one individual dominating.

The teacher plays a key role in the classroom and can send tasks to different tables to individuals and groups.

Professor Steve Higgins said: "Technology like this has enormous potential for teaching as it can help the teacher to manage and to orchestrate the learning of individuals and groups of learners to ensure they are both challenged and supported so that they can learn effectively."

The findings published in the journal Learning and Instruction, show that children who use a collaborative maths activity in the SynergyNet classroom improve in both mathematical 'flexibility and fluency', while children working on traditional paper-based activities only improve in flexibility.

"Cooperative learning works very well in the new classroom because the pupils interact and learn in a different way," added Researcher, Emma Mercier, School of Education, Durham University. (ANI)

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