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13th International Congress on Mathematical Education

Hamburg, 24-31 July 2016

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COLLABORATIVE DESIGN OF EDUCATIONAL DIGITAL RESOURCES

FOR PROMOTING CREATIVE MATHEMATICAL THINKING

Jana Trgalová1, Mohamed El-Demerdash1, 2, Oliver Labs3, Jean-François Nicaud4

1Claude Bernard University - Lyon 1 (France), 2Menoufia University (Egypt), 3Universities of

Potsdam and Mainz, MO-Labs (Germany), 4Aristod (France)

In this paper, we present our experience, while working in the MC Squared project, with the design

of educational digital resources aiming at promoting creative mathematical thinking. The resources

are produced within an innovative socio-technological environment called “c-book technology” (c

for creative) by a community gathering together mathematics teachers, computer scientists and

researchers in mathematics education. In this paper, we highlight processes of collaborative design

of the “Experimental geometry” c-book resource and we discuss the design choices resulting in the

resource affordances to promote creativity in mathematics in terms of personalized non-linear path,

constructivist approach, autonomous learning, and meta-cognition based activities, among others.

INTRODUCTION

Promoting creative mathematical thinking (CMT) is a central aim of the European Union by being

connected to personal and social empowerment for future citizens (EC, 2006). It is also considered

as a highly valued asset in industry (Noss & Hoyles, 2010) and as a prerequisite for meeting current

and future economic challenges (National Academies of Science, 2007). CMT is seen as an

individual and collective construction of mathematical meanings, norms and uses in novel and

useful ways (Sawyer, 2004; Sternberg, 2003), which can be of relevance to a larger (academic,

learning, professional, or other) community.

Exploratory and expressive digital media are providing users with access to and potential for

engagement with creative mathematical thinking in unprecedented ways (Hoyles & Noss, 2003;

Healy & Kynigos, 2010). Yet, new designs are needed to provide new ways of thinking and

learning about mathematics and to support learners’ engagement with creative mathematical

thinking in collectives using dynamic digital media.

The MC Squared project, briefly presented in the next section, looks for new methodologies that

would assist designers of digital educational media to explore, identify and bring forth resources

stimulating more creative ways of mathematical thinking. The paper then focuses on the design of

one such resource, “Experimental geometry” c-book, highlighting the design choices and the

resource affordances to foster CMT in its users. Concluding remarks bringing forward factors

stimulating creativity in digital resources collaborative design of are proposed in the final section.

THE MC SQUARED PROJECT

The MC Squared project (http://mc2-project.eu/) aims at designing and developing an intelligent

computational environment, called c-book technology, to support stakeholders from creative

industries involved in the production of media content for educational purposes to engage in

collective forms of creative design of appropriate digital media. The c-book technology provides an

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authorable dynamic environment extending e-book technologies to include diverse dynamic

widgets, an authorable data analytics engine and a tool supporting asynchronous collaborative

design of educational resources, called “c-books”. The project focuses on studying processes of

collaborative design of digital media intended to enhance creative mathematical thinking.

CREATIVE MATHEMATICAL THINKING

Based on a literature review and prior studies led by researchers involved in the project related to

studying creativity (El-Demerdash, 2010; El-Demerdash & Kortenkamp, 2009; El-Rayashy & Al-

Baz, 2000; Haylock 1997; Mann 2006), a definition reflecting our vision of creative mathematical

thinking has been adopted. It defines CMT as an intellectual activity generating new mathematical

ideas or responses over the known or familiar ones in a non-routine mathematical situation.

Drawing on Guilford’s (1950) model of divergent thinking, the generation of new ideas shows the

abilities of fluency, flexibility, originality/novelty, and elaboration that are defined as follows:

Fluency means the student’s ability to pose or come up with many mathematical ideas or

configurations related to a mathematical problem or situation in a short time.

Flexibility refers to the student’s ability to vary the approaches or suggest a variety of

different methods toward a solution of a mathematical problem or situation.

Originality means the student’s ability to try novel or unique approaches in solving a

mathematical problem or situation.

Elaboration is the student’s ability to redefine a single mathematical problem or situation

to create others, by changing one or more aspects by substituting, combining, adapting,

altering, expanding, or rearranging, and then speculating on how this single change

would have a ripple effect on other aspects of the problem or the situation at hand.

THE "EXPERIMENTAL GEOMETRY" C-BOOK

The notion of geometric locus of points is the topic of the “Experimental geometry” c-book

presented in this section. According to Jareš and Pech (2013), this notion is difficult to grasp at all

school levels and technology can be an appropriate media to facilitate its learning. One way is to

use dynamic geometry software to “find the searched locus and state a conjecture” and a computer

algebra system to “identify the locus equation” (ibid.).

The challenge in designing this c-book was to exploit c-book technology affordances to propose a

comprehensive study of geometric and algebraic characterization of some loci within the c-book.

We decided to create activities aiming at studying loci of special points in a triangle. These loci (for

example a locus of the orthocenter) are generated by the movement of one vertex of a triangle along

a line parallel to the opposite side (see Fig. 1). These are classical problems from the field of

geometry of movement that were solved even before the advent of dynamic geometry (Botsch,

1956; Moldenhauer, 2010). Elschenbroich (2001) revisits the problem of locus of the orthocenter in

a triangle with a new media, dynamic geometry software. El-Demerdash (2010) uses this example

to promote CMT in high school mathematically gifted students.

The c-book description

The c-book invites students to experiment geometric loci generated by intersection points of special

lines of a triangle while one of its vertices moves along a line parallel to the opposite side (see Fig.

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1). The activity can give rise to a number of various situations, which makes it a rich situation for

exploring, conjecturing, experimenting, and proving.

Figure 1: A screenshot of a c-book page showing three widgets: Cinderella (left), EpsilonWriter

(top right) and EpsilonChat (bottom right).

The c-book is organized in three sections. The first section proposes the main activity called “Loci

of special points of a triangle”. It starts by inviting the students to explore, with Cinderella dynamic

geometry software

1

, the geometric locus of the orthocenter of a triangle while one of its vertices

moves along a line parallel to the opposite side (Fig. 2a). The students are asked to explore the

situation, formulate a conjecture about the geometric locus of the point D and test the conjecture by

visualizing the trace of the point D (Fig. 2b).

Figure 2a: Geometrical situation proposed with

Cinderella (Act. 1, page 1).

Figure 2b: Visualizing the trace of D while C

moves on the red line (Act. 1, page 2).

The students are then asked to find an algebraic formula of the locus, which is a parabola. The

formula is to be written with EpsilonWriter

2

application and the interoperability between this

widget and Cinderella allows the students to check whether the provided formula fits the locus or

not.

1

http://www.cinderella.de

2

http://www.epsilonwriter.com

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The students are next encouraged to think of, explore, and experiment the geometric loci in other

similar situations, such as the locus of the circumcenter (intersection of the perpendicular bisectors),

the incenter (intersection of the angle bisectors) or the centroid (intersection of the medians). Other

situations can be generated by considering the intersection of two different lines, for example a

height and a perpendicular bisector. Twelve such situations can be generated. For each case, one

page is devoted offering to the students:

Cinderella applet with a triangle ABC such that the vertex C moves along a line parallel

to the side [AB] and a collection of tools for constructing intersection point, midpoint,

line, perpendicular line, angle bisector, locus, as well as the tool for visualizing the trace

of a point;

EpsilonWriter widget enabling a communication with Cinderella;

EpsilonChat widget enabling remote communication among students.

Section 2 called “The concept of geometric locus” aims at introducing the concept of locus of

points. It starts by leading the students to discover the fact that a circle can be characterized as a

locus of points that are at the same distance from a given point. The students first experiment a

“soft” locus (Healy, 2000; Laborde, 2005) of a point A placed at the distance 6 cm from a given

point M (Fig. 3a), and then they verify their conjectures by realizing a “robust” construction of the

circle centered at A with a radius 6 cm (Fig. 3b).

(a)

(b)

Figure 3: Circle as a locus of points that are at a given distance from a given point: (a) “soft” locus,

and (b) “robust” locus.

The next page is constructed in a similar way in order to allow the students to explore perpendicular

bisector as a geometric locus of points that are at a same distance from two given points. Finally,

the last page proposes a synthesis of these two activities and provides a definition of the concept of

geometric locus of points.

The third section, “Algebraic representation of loci”, proposes a guided discovery of algebraic

characterization of the main curves that can be generated as loci of points: a circle, a perpendicular

bisector and a parabola.

Design choices and rationale

Personalized non-linear path

The c-book is designed to allow students going through it according to their knowledge and interest.

They are invited to enter by the main activity in section 1. However, the concept of geometric locus

is a prerequisite. In case this knowledge is not acquired yet, or the students need revising it, they

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can reach the section 2 via an internal hyperlink from various places of the main activity. Similarly,

section 3, which allows the students learning about the algebraic characterization of some common

curves, is reachable from the main activity. Thus the students can “read” the c-book autonomously,

in a non-linear personalized way, depending on their knowledge about geometric or algebraic

aspects of loci of points according to their needs.

Promoting creative mathematical thinking

The c-book is designed in a way to support the development of creative mathematical thinking

through promoting its four components (fluency, flexibility, originality, and elaboration) among

upper secondary school students. First, the main activity is designed in a way to call for students’

elaboration: they are invited to modify the initial situation by considering various combinations of

special lines in a triangle, whose intersection point generates a locus to explore. Fluency and

flexibility are fostered by providing the students with a rich environment in which they can explore

geometric situations and related algebraic formulas while benefitting from feedback allowing them

to control their actions and verify their conjectures (see learning analytics below). Specific feedback

is implemented toward directing students to produce different and varied situations and help them

break down their mind fixation by considering yet different configurations, such as two different

kinds of special lines in a triangle passing through the movable vertex (e.g., a height intersecting

with an angle bisector), and then the intersection of two different lines that do not pass through the

movable vertex. The c-book provides the students not only with digital tools enabling them to

explore geometric and algebraic aspects of the studied loci separately, but also with a so-called

“cross-widget communication” affordances of Cinderella, a dynamic geometry environment, and

EpsilonWriter, a dynamic algebra environment, which makes it possible to experimentally discover

the algebraic formula that matches the generated locus in a unique way; this feature may contribute

to the development of original approaches by the students.

Constructivist approach

The c-book activities in sections 2 and 3 are developed based on the constructivist learning theory

practices enabling students to create new experiences and link them to their prior cognitive structure

supported with learning opportunities for conjecturing, exploration, explanation, and mathematics

communication. The feedback drawing on learning analytics (see below) is designed to allow

students solve the proposed activities autonomously and thus construct the target knowledge.

Meta-cognition - Learning by reflecting on one’s own action

All c-book sections end up with a meta-cognitive activity that has been designed to encourage

students to reflect about their learning and enable them further understand, analyze and control their

own cognitive processes. These activities have also been designed to develop students’ written

mathematical communication skills through the use of EpsilonChat, a widget for communicating

mathematics.

Technological development

An outstanding feature of the c-book environment is the fact that it does not only come with a large

number of existing widgets in the mathematical context from several different European developer

teams, but it also comes with so-called widget factories, one from each of the developer teams

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allowing authors to generate their own specialized widgets, if they want. The interesting point of

this is that all these diverse widgets work perfectly together with the back-end of the environment

and they can even collaborate with each other within pages. For example, the dynamic algebra

system EpsilonWriter is an interesting tool for manipulating formulas and equations via a unique

drag and drop interface (right part of figure 1). But it neither has a built-in function graphing tool

nor geometric construction capabilities. These aspects are some of the specialties of the

programmable dynamic geometry system Cinderella (left part of figure 1).

Later, when working with the c-book, a student may have produced a reasonable equation for a

function within EpsilonWriter, and she can visualize it by using the ‘draw’ tab. The graph of the

function will be shown in the Cinderella construction at the right. For the student, this is visually

clear and intuitive; but technically a lot is happening in the background. First, the equation will be

sent from the EpsilonWriter software via a standardized protocol to the c-book environment and

from there to the Cinderella software, which finally visualizes it as a part of the interactive

construction. All this is possible within the c-book player running in a web-browser.

As the example above illustrates, cross-widget communication is a quite powerful feature. In this

case, it opens the opportunity for the c-book author to make explicit connections between different

representations of a mathematical object: a curve represented as a geometric locus, its formula or

equation with the ability to modify it dynamically, and a geometric figure combining both the

construction as a locus and the visualization of the curve given by the equation. Within the c-book

environment, such opportunities exist in other branches of mathematics as well, e. g., via this

mechanism statistics and probability widgets may be connected to geometry, algebra, a number

theory widget or even to a logo programming widget, to name just a few more use cases.

Another advantage of the fact that the c-book environment comes with a set of widget factories is

that it is easy for a c-book author to create new widgets for the specific needs of the c-book she is

currently developing. The quickest way to do this is by adapting existing widgets to specific needs

of a currently written c-book. For example, a widget allowing certain geometric constructions by

changing the available tools, add some geometric objects, etc. But in addition to this, a c-book

author can develop a completely new widget from scratch using one of the widget factories; it will

automatically work within the c-book environment via the interfaces implemented on both sides.

Learning analytics and feedback

One of the important aspects in the design of this c-book is to decide which of the student's

activities should be logged to a database while she is studying the c-book. There have been many

different types of logs implemented in this c-book. These logs enable the teacher to capture the

student’s path in studying the c-book, e.g., whether the student starts from the c-book main activity,

what pages she goes through while studying the c-book, how far she goes through the additional

two activities, whether she goes back and forth through the c-book pages and activities and when,

whether she uses the provided internal and external hyperlinks to look for further information, how

she uses the available hints and how many levels of hints etc.

Moreover, logs were implemented to trace the student’s trails or attempts while she is using the

provided Cinderella tools to construct a configuration to elaborate the given problem situation: the

time the student spends on each page and each activity as an indicator of motivation; the number of

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student’s trials for each page and each activity of the c-book; the student's use of EpsilonChat as a

social aspect of creativity and collaborative work with others whether in pairs or groups.

Two types of feedback are provided to students, while they are studying the c-book to guarantee

their smooth move from page to page and switch between the c-book activities: mathematical or

educational feedback and technical feedback. Mathematical or educational feedback includes hints

and comments oriented toward solving the given problem or developing creative mathematical

thinking. This type of feedback is in the form of a message sent in a pop-up window, of a hyperlink

or of an internal link. Technical feedback aims at helping students master the available widgets so

that technical issues do not become obstacles to the problem solving processes. This type of

feedback is in the form of hints or instructions about how to use Cinderella or EpsilonWriter

provided tools, or hints regarding the use of cross-communication between the two widgets.

CONCLUSION

The c-book presented in this paper is the result of a collaborative work of a group of designers

coming from various professional backgrounds, as the group comprises researchers in mathematics,

mathematics education and computer science, as well as educational software developers. Without

the synergy among those group members, a number of design choices would have remained in a

hypothetical state, namely the technological advances in terms of cross-widget communication and

learning analytics features. The design of the c-book has thus become a driving force in the c-book

technology development, and in return, the unique c-book technology features enabled the creation

of a resource with affordances promoting creative mathematical thinking.

This experience brings to the fore factors stimulating creativity in the collaborative design of digital

educational resources. Among these are the following two:

a variety of designers’ profiles, as pointed out by Fischer (2005), as it encourages the search

for novel information and perspectives;

a close collaboration with software developers, which turned out to be critical for the design

and implementation of unique features of the c-book technology resulting in a creative

resource. Thus the development of the technology and the educational resources designed

with this technology feeds each other.

Acknowledgements

The research leading to these results has received funding from the EU 7th Framework Programme

(FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement n° 610467 - project “M C Squared”, http://mc2-project.eu.

The C-book technology is based on the widely used Freudenthal Institute's DME portal and is being

developed by a consortium of nine partner organizations, led by CTI&Press 'Diophantus'. This

publication reflects only the authors’ views and the European Union is not liable for any use that

may be made of the information contained therein.

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