Researcher and College Professor in New York Uses Maple to Enhance STEM Education - Maplesoft

User Case Study:
Researcher and College Professor in New York Uses Maple to Enhance STEM Education

Dr. Natalia Mosina has done extensive research on the use of technology tools in the classroom. She wanted a tool that would enhance learning for her STEM students and help them better engage with course materials.

Mosina adopted Maple and regularly uses it in her classroom. She initially used it to administer lab assignments but now uses it more broadly, with students using Maple for various projects and modeling problems.

Feedback has been positive. Mosina’s students are more motivated and have greater interest in course subject matter since Maple was introduced. Her students have said Maple is very useful in helping them visualize pre-calculus concepts.

The integration of technology into education remains an important topic in the academic world. As digital learning solutions improve and offer more comprehensive features, the discussion continues on how best to implement them and maximize their value in the classroom, especially in regards to STEM courses. What is the balance between the use of technology tools and more traditional teaching methods that will optimize student learning? Dr. Natalia Mosina, a mathematics professor at CUNY LaGuardia Community College (LaGCC), has done extensive research on enhancing STEM education using technology tools and regularly uses Maple in her classroom.

Mosina was introduced to Maple as a student at CUNY’s Brooklyn College, before moving on to Columbia University where she earned M.A., M.Phil., and Ph.D. degrees in Mathematics. As an instructor, she began using it in her Pre-Calculus courses to supplement traditional teaching methods. It is important to find a balance and give students that experience with a technology tool, Mosina said. “Maple helped me bring technology into the classroom,” she said. “It allows students to not only find answers to computational mathematical problems, but also to visualize mathematical concepts using plots and animations, explore the effects of changing parameters right in front of their eyes, and work through problems step-by-step. Maple helps to reinforce math concepts and ideas that are often difficult for students to understand.”

Initially, Mosina devoted Maple lab work in her classroom to solving typical Pre-Calculus problems using Maple’s computer algebra system tools. These lab assignments were eventually redesigned to introduce more applied problems dealing with real life situations from economics, physics, and finance. This provided an opportunity to engage students with more interesting questions for applied projects and a few modeling problems, Mosina said. “Students were asked to scatter plot raw data that was provided to them, then determine which modeling approach worked best for that particular data set, using their knowledge of Pre-Calculus,” she said. “They were then required to build this model using Maple, interpret it and answer questions based on their model. Students were actually very interested to see that Pre-Calculus could help them to solve these kinds of applied problems.”

Her Maple Labs projects went through revisions and improvements over several years as she took further steps towards contextualizing Pre-Calculus. Maple provided her students with further motivation and raised their interest in the subject matter. The students had to analyze and interpret raw data when solving real-life problems related to economics (supply and demand, mortgages, optimizing revenues and minimizing costs), public health issues (blood alcohol concentration and related risks, healing of wounds), geometry (areas), physics (projectile motion, optics, circuits), etc. Classwork lab assignments were designed to better demonstrate how Maple is used to solve different course-related problems of both theoretical and applied nature. Mosina requested feedback from her students and discovered that those at the top of the class said Maple was very useful in helping them visualize pre-calculus concepts. “They appreciated that fact that they could build models and make predictions with Maple,” she said. “Given the raw data, they could use Maple's 'Polynomial best fit' feature and create a model that they could use. They also greatly appreciated Maple’s graphing functions.”

Mosina’s lab lessons were eventually compiled as a separate file with step-by-step student-oriented instructions. In August 2011, this file was included in the textbook Precalculus – Concepts Through Functions, A Unit Circle Approach to Trigonometry by Sullivan and Sullivan, customized for LaGCC. A 2nd edition of this customized textbook with a Maple appendix was published in 2014. In addition, Mosina authored an article about her integrated approach to teaching Pre-Calculus using Maple. The article revisits the notion of integration in teaching and learning, discusses integration of various strategies to enhance engagement and success of students taking a STEM pre-gateway course in Pre-Calculus, and looks at several practices in teaching technology–oriented and applied project-based Pre-Calculus that result in improved student performance, engagement, and self-confidence.

Her research examines the integration in teaching and learning in a broad sense, with a focus on the integration of various strategies to enhance learning, engagement, and success of students taking a STEM pre-gateway course in Pre-Calculus at a two-year college. The paper calls for integration of effective approaches in one integral system, raises questions about optimal combination of working strategies, and, among other things, contributes to an empirical study of integration. Development of a particular integrated path toward students’ success in freshmen math pre-gateway to STEM is described.

“Maple is such a valuable technology tool when it comes to teaching and helping students understand key mathematical concepts,” Mosina said. “Used effectively, it can greatly enhance learning for STEM students.”

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