Using Smartpen Technology to Document, Share, and Analyze Children's Mathematical Reasoning

Project Title: Using Smartpen Technology to Document, Share, and Analyze Children's Mathematical Reasoning

Project Lead's Name: Suzanne Harper

Project Lead's Email:

Project Lead's Phone: 513-529-5828

Project Lead's Division: CAS

Primary Department: Mathematics

Other Team Members and their emails: Dana Cox,

List Departments Benefiting or Affected by this proposal: Mathematics

Estimated Number of Under-Graduate students affected per year (should be number who will actually use solution, not just who is it available to): 100

Estimated Number of Graduate students affected per  year (should be number who will actually use solution, not just who is it available to): 18

Describe the problem you are attempting to solve and your approach for solving that problem: In our program to prepare teachers of mathematics K-12, we feel that it is imperative that we introduce future teachers to authentic K-12 student mathematics. That means that we incorporate opportunities to examine student work and listen to the ways in which children and adolescents communicate mathematical ideas and reasoning.

It should come as no surprise that it can be difficult to collect  examples of student work as written, audio, or video media. Videos of classroom episodes are not readily available due to concerns about the safety and anonymity of local students who are minors. We do request written student work from local districts and they are happy to provide anonymous work. However, written work can be difficult to interpret and often fails to teach prospective students about

  1. The ways in which assessing student learning can be about determining what a student knows instead of focusing on deficits and mathematical correctness of final solutions.
  2. The depth to which students think about ways to represent their thinking about mathematics.

How would you describe the innovation and/or the significance of your project: Using smartpens to document student mathematical thinking has changed our prospective students' access to this fundamental experience. Aegir smartpens work just like regular pens and transform written student work into an interactive PDF. However, they simultaneously record the ambient conversations around that work. Thus, children (and adults!) can talk their way through a problem and our prospective teachers can play that work back as if it were real-time. In that way, we can augment prospective teachers' learning about assessment.

We first purchased a set of smartpens more than eight years ago. Since that purchase, we have used the pens in the following ways:

  1. Mathematics education faculty have used the pens to collect data in our own classrooms. Some of these data were used in educational research projects that were shared at professional conferences and disseminated in academic journals. However, the data has also been instrumental in evaluating the effectiveness of instruction and curriculum in the Department of Mathematics at Miami University. We have used the data to engage in self-reflective teaching and curricular design experiments that improved our teacher development courses and program.
  2. Smartpens have been an invaluable tool for the students in our graduate-level Masters of Arts in Teaching program. As a component of that program, graduate students are expected to engage in an Action Research project where they carefully examine one aspect of their teaching practice. They use smartpens as a tool to collect data, helping our teachers gain deeper insights into their students' mathematical learning, but also the ways in which students in their classrooms collaborate in small groups and communicate their mathematical thinking with others.

The smartpens have been an invaluable tool, but the technology is in dire need of an update. Some of our pens are inoperable due to the age of their batteries and charging hardware. Furthermore, the older version of the pens was designed to be used with just one device, which makes it difficult for multiple users to collect data-and puts the onus of downloading data on one person using a specific registered laptop. The current version (Aegir smartpens) would eliminate these problems while also providing plenty of data storage.

How will you assess the success of the project: We have already realized and documented the profound impact this technology has had on both our undergraduate and graduate students. We expect this to continue and will document it in two ways:

  1. We will incorporate the technology into our MTH 689: Research in Mathematics Education course. In this course, graduate students are introduced to a variety of methods of data collection. We will provide examples of the interactive PDFs generated by these pens and ask our students to do a preliminary analysis of that work. We hope to examine their submitted work for evidence that analyzing data collected using smartpens improves in-service teachers' understanding of classroom assessment and data-driven instructional decisions.
  2. We will invite classroom teachers to use the pens to collect student data relevant to the content of three Miami courses: Mathematics for Elementary teachers (115 and 116) and Geometry for Middle Grades teachers (218). We will make sure to gain IRB support for this work so that we can make this data available to prospective teaches without risk to the minors Involved. We will document that process as evidence of the impact this work has on prospective teachers.

Financial Information

Total Amount Requested: $1,049.40

Is this a multi-year request: No