Math made visual

Prof. Michal Yerushalmy, director of the University of Haifa’s Institute for Research of Alternatives in Education, recently received the international Eddie Prize for excellence in design of educational products and materials in science or mathematics in recognition of her VisualMath curriculum and its related Math4Mobile system, which enabled students to out-perform their traditionally-trained peers.

 Math made visual

 

Prof. Michal Yerushalmy sees her award as a triumph more for Israel than for herself

By Avigayil Kadesh

Trained in a curriculum called VisualMath, devised by Israel’s Prof. Michal Yerushalmy, students have scored above the national average on standardized tests; moved on to higher-level math classes in high school; out-performed their traditionally-trained peers in solving algebra word problems and complex new problems; and displayed a superior ability to devise strategies for identifying and correcting mistakes.

Yerushalmy, director of the University of Haifa’s Institute for Research of Alternatives in Education, recently received the International Society for Design and Development in Education’s $10,000 Eddie Prize for excellence in design of educational products and materials in science or mathematics in recognition of her VisualMath curriculum and its related Math4Mobile system.

VisualMath systematically builds understanding of secondary school mathematics from a functions perspective through digital-rich tasks covering algebra, calculus and geometry. It is a function-based mathematics program for 7th- through 12th-graders, and its related Math4Mobile system of Java applications is designed to foster intuitive ‘mLearning’ using mobile phones.

 Math made visual

An Israeli math program based on mobile phones is a boon for schools worldwide lacking
reliable computer access.

A triumph for Israel

Now on sabbatical in India, Yerushalmy was not aware of the September 30 announcement of the prize in Oxford, England, until receiving word via e-mail a couple of days later. Though she says it is gratifying to see her work of 25 years receive international attention, she sees the Eddie as a triumph more for Israel than for herself.

"This is very important because it acknowledges that Israel is developing accessible inquiry-based math curriculum materials for us and for the rest of the world," she says in a Skype interview from Bangalore. She is conducting research at the International Institute of Information Technology in the capital of the Indian state of Kamataka, while also voluntarily helping local teachers to implement Math4Mobile.

Yerushalmy began developing the concept in the 1980s while at Harvard University, together with Prof. Judah Schwartz. After returning to the University of Haifa, she worked with research students and a team from the Center for Educational Technology in Ramat Aviv to create the first edition of VisualMath in 1992. Partially supported by the Ministry of Education, VisualMath remains innovative not only for its technology-based approach but also for its design as a full curriculum covering the required syllabus rather than as an enrichment syllabus.

"The prize was given for the work done in Israel," she stresses. "In the US, we developed the idea but not the curriculum."

At first, VisualMath was PC-based, backed by paper texts. It then moved to Web-based interactive eBooks used by teachers in Israel and several other countries. The eBooks contain hundreds of interactive tools and exercise libraries that allow students to strengthen mathematical skills through solving computer-generated problems with the help of diagrams.

Math on the phone

"VisualMath has been continuously implemented in small steps for more than two decades, says Yerushalmy, adding that "curriculum, especially paired with technology, is dead if you don’t constantly touch it." Each new iteration of the VisualMath product is implemented through research and new development tied to emerging technologies.

Taking the idea to the next level, four years ago Yerushalmy and University of Haifa computer science students developed Math4Mobile to take advantage of ubiquitous cellular phone availability – especially targeted for schools worldwide that lack reliable computer access.

So far, more than 250,000 applications have been downloaded from the Math4mobile site, many of these by teachers in South American and South African schools. The apps are in English; the material is available in Spanish and English, but using the program is not dependent on text and requires minimal reading.

 

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