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Enhancing Middle Grades Students' Capacity to Develop and Communicate Their Mathematical Understanding of Big Ideas Using Digital Inscriptional Resources

Principal Investigators:

  • Elizabeth Phillips (Michigan State University),
  • AJ Edson (Michigan State University),
  • Kristen Bieda (Michigan State University), 
  • Joseph Krajcik (Michigan State University), 
  • Chad Dorsey (Concord Consortium), and
  • Nathan Kimball (Concord Consortium).

Funding Source: National Science Foundation

Award Number: DRL-1620934DRL-1620874

Dates: September 2016 - August 2021 (estimated)

Amount: $3 million

Advisory Board:

  • Jinfa Cai (University of Delaware),
  • Jeffrey Choppin (University of Rochester),
  • Susan Friel (University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill),
  • Valerie Mills (Oakland Schools, MI), and
  • Margaret Smith (University of Pittsburgh).

Project Partners: Concord Consortium

The primary goal of this project is to help middle school students deepen and communicate their understanding of mathematics.

The project will develop and test a digital platform for middle school mathematics classroom. The platform will allow students to collaboratively create representations of their mathematics thinking, incorporate ideas from other students, and share their work with the class.

The digital learning environment makes use of a problem-centered mathematics curriculum that evolved from extensive development, field-testing and evaluation, and is widely used in middle schools.

The research will also contribute to understanding about the design and innovative use of digital resources and collaboration in classrooms as an increasing number of schools are drawing on these kinds of tools.

Projects in the DRK-12 program build on fundamental research in STEM education and prior research and development efforts that provide theoretical and empirical justification for proposed projects.


The project will support students to collaboratively construct, manipulate, and interpret shared representations of mathematics using digital inscriptional resources. The research activities will significantly enhance our understanding of student learning in mathematics in three important ways. The project will report on how:

  1. evidence of student thinking is made visible through the use of digital inscriptional resources,
  2. student inscriptions are documented, discussed, and manipulated in collaborative settings, and
  3. students' conceptual growth of big mathematical ideas grows over time

An iterative design research process will incorporate four phases of development, testing and revision, and will be conducted to study student use of the digital learning space and related inscriptional resources. Data sources will include:

  • classroom observations and artifacts,
  • student and teacher interviews and surveys,
  • student assessment data, and
  • analytics from the digital platform

The process will include close collaboration with teachers to understand the implementation and create revisions to the resources.

More Information


NSF LogoThis work was supported by the National Science Foundation grants DRL-1660926, and DR-1620934. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in the material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.