Erin Ottmar Is Part of Team Awarded Grant to Expand Graspable Math


School of Arts & Sciences

WPI researcher Erin Ottmar is part of a team that has been awarded $100,000 by the Futures Forum on Learning to add collaborative tools to Graspable Math, a digital algebra platform that lets students manipulate numbers and symbols on screen to solve equations and get immediate feedback.


Ottmar, assistant professor of psychology and learning sciences and a co-founder of Graspable Math, will lead the research on the project and guide the design of a new feature called Graspable Math Teams. The new feature will allow students who are studying both remotely and in person to collaborate at the same time with one another and teachers.

The use of Graspable Math has grown during the pandemic, with more than 25,000 students and teachers using the tool in classrooms per month. The new Graspable Math Teams feature will enable students to work together on a shared online math document and talk to each other over a voice-chat function. Teachers and researchers will be able to observe student interactions in real time and record data for further study.

Other work on the eight-month project will be conducted by Graspable Math co-founders Erik Weitnauer and David Landy.

The researchers also plan to recruit a small group of students in Massachusetts to test the new feature, and Anthony Botelho, a WPI research scientist in the Learning Sciences and Technologies program, will conduct learning engineering on the data and evaluate the results.

“Collaborative learning, problem solving, and discussion are so important in mathematics education, but most remote instruction during the pandemic has been largely limited to lectures and students working alone,” Ottmar said. “Our goal is to create a tool that allows students to work together on algebra and engage more effectively with their peers and teachers.”

Graspable Math was one of 18 entities selected for awards in March by the Futures Forum on Learning. Nearly 900 proposals for tools aimed at accelerating learning recovery and mitigating the educational impact of COVID-19 on K-12 students were submitted to the organization for consideration.