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.
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
, 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
application and the interoperability between this
widget and Cinderella allows the students to check whether the provided formula fits the locus or
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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).
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.
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
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.
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.
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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