Bringing the power of interactive math plug-ins to NoteTaker
An interview with Larry Cannon, Joel Duffin and Robert Heal
Q. Tell us about the NLVM project and its background. What was the original vision? How long have you and the team been working on it?
A: The National Library of Virtual Manipulatives (NLVM) is a National Science Foundation (NSF) supported grant project that began in 1999 as an extension of our previous work to develop electronic resources for teaching and learning mathematics. We envisioned creating a set of software tools that provided highly focused interactive representations of mathematical concepts and relationships. It is our belief that good interactive models play a crucial role in supporting acquisition of mathematical understanding. Moreover, these interactive math tools are highly adaptable and can be used in a variety of contexts using a variety of teaching approaches. In addition, they can be used to support teacher training.
Q. What are the pedagogical goals of the NLVM? Or put another way, what role do virtual manipulatives play in math and science education?
A: Virtual manipulatives are the toys and the playground (math laboratory) on which students can learn by doing. The representations, interactivity, linking of representations, and immediate feedback built into the manipulatives support learning in unique ways. They make it possible for students to more easily discover and comprehend abstract concepts and relationships and to deepen their understanding over time.
Q: How extensive is the library of lesson plans or applets? Do they align with various state math standards? What grade levels?
A: The NLVM currently consists of more than 100 applets and accompanying suggested activities and ideas for teachers. Work is ongoing to develop new applets and lessons. NLVM resources are indexed according to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) content (PSSM) K-12 grade bands and content strands. Because most of the states have used the NCTM standards as a model from which to build their standards, finding resources in our library for particular state standards is straightforward.
Q: From a technology standpoint, you chose Java to implement your project. Why Java and Java applets?
A: We chose Java to implement the project because we needed to deliver resources on both Mac and Windows platforms, in a variety of web browsers, and optimally without requiring users to download plug-ins. Because we started in 1999, Java support was not consistent across the various environments and so it wasn't quite as easy as the "write once, run everywhere" PR line promised. However, in the end, we are quite happy with our choice of Java.
Q: Your team is releasing an example lesson using NoteTaker as a content platform for running your Java applets. What has the development cycle been like using NoteTaker's plug-in component architecture? Is the software development kit easy to use if you're a Java programmer?
A: No modifications were required to get our applets running in NoteTaker. To make it easier for users to access our applets and documentation, we generated NoteTaker plug-in files. Because we had stored the metadata for our applets in a database, that was easy to do. We decided to take advantage of the serialization support that NoteTaker provides by utilizing the NoteTaker APIs. Because the APIs are simple and our applets use common base classes, making those changes required little work.
Q: What are the advantages of using NoteTaker for classroom use? How do your applets behave when running inside of notebook pages? Any advantages or features?
A: We have found that convenience and adaptability are big issues for teachers. Many teachers find that internet access at their schools is unreliable, slow, or even unavailable. In contrast to paper and other traditional mediums that teachers are used to adapting, most web-based resources, especially interactive ones, cannot be easily adapted or contextualized. NoteTaker, makes it possible for teachers to easily adapt NLVM applets and materials and to create new contexts for our applets.
Q: While running the applets inside of NoteTaker, is the state or data associated with a particular lesson saved? Meaning, can the student or teacher close the notebook and come back to their previous work or session state?
A: In NoteTaker, teachers can save our applets in a particular state so that when they reopen the book, the applet appears in exactly the same state as when they left it. This functionality makes it possible for students and teachers to save work they have done with our manipulatives so that they can share it with others, submit their work, or return to it later.
Q: Now that you can deliver interactive math lessons as notebooks, how or where should teachers learn more about using your library of applets in their classrooms?
A: Teachers can learn more about the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives by going to the NLVM website: http://nlvm.usu.edu/. They can download a sample lesson notebook that utilizes NLVM applets and purchase the NLVM NoteTaker plug-in from http://www.mattimath.com/. The NLVM NoteTaker plug-in allows teachers and students to insert our applets in NoteTaker notebooks without being connected to the internet and to view the documentation for the applets.
Q: Are there new applets planned by your group? What are the next steps for NLVM?
A: With additional NSF support through a new grant titled Extending and Enhancing the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives (eNLVM) we are currently developing lessons that utilize existing NLVM applets and we are also creating new applets to support eNLVM lessons. Our eNLVM lessons target specific objectives, include learning activities, and provide online assessments. When eNLVM lessons are ready for public release, information will be posted on the NLVM website