Enhancing the Student Learning Experience with Maple

Challenge

Professors at Georgia College and State University were looking for a new easy-to-use computer algebra tool that would allow students to focus on concepts, rather than mastering the software.

Solution

Maple was introduced in three courses through bi-weekly labs, including exercises, assignments and projects.

Result

Professors noted that the use of Maple increased student focus on conceptual knowledge, provided connections between multiple representations, and helped develop advanced mathematical thinking. In surveys completed at the end of each course, 85% of students said Maple was a substantial aid in their learning.

Three mathematics professors at Georgia College and State University, Dr. Marcela Chiorescu, Dr. Brandon Samples, and Dr. Darin Mohr, were the winners of a mini STEM educational research grant, acquiring the necessary funds to integrate Maple into several courses at the college. Maple, Maplesoft’s engine for advanced math computation, was chosen by these professors to study the effects of technology in the classroom. Their premise was that the growing use of computer algebra systems (CAS) and interactive technology tools such as Maple can hugely impact the learning process. Based on in-depth student feedback about the use of Maple, the result was unanimous: the experiment proved the theory right.

Georgia College and State University is home to roughly 6,000 students. When introducing a new computer algebra tool, Dr. Chiorescu and her colleagues wanted to be sure that their students did not get caught up in attempting to master the software, instead focusing on learning the math concepts. "With its reputation as a user-friendly and intuitive platform for education, Maple stood out as the most sophisticated yet easy-to-use computation software," said Dr. Chiorescu. "It did not take long for students to become familiar with Maple. Soon enough, it became their go-to tool for solving long and difficult problems."

Maple worksheets and projects were integrated into three courses at GCSU: Calculus I, Calculus II, and Linear Algebra. The professors chose to integrate Maple by introducing Maple labs. They were administered once every two weeks covering areas in functions, derivatives, Riemann sums, techniques of integration, matrix computations, determinants, eigenvalues, eigenvectors, and many more. Students were instructed to work together in small groups with bi-weekly exercises and assignments.

Maple increased focus on conceptual knowledge, provided connections between multiple representations, and helped to develop advanced mathematical thinking.

- Dr. Marcela Chiorescu,Georgia College and State University

In his Calculus II Maple labs, Dr. Brandon Samples chose to incorporate Maple in two projects. The first was a modeling project where students explored the computation of surface area and volume for the design of a model. The second project was a real-world application assignment where students, in groups of two or three, were asked to analyze either the repayment of student loans or the purchase of a house. Dr. Samples’ method of teaching combined with the intuitive Maple platform made learning concepts such as inverse functions, techniques of integration, and partial derivatives, much more straightforward. Students reported that Maple’s ability to illustrate a problem with graphs, tables, equations, and words was a huge aid in their learning. Topics that were originally difficult to understand during a lecture were instantly clarified during the Maple tutorials. "It helps you visualize the problems and use them in real life situations," reported a Calculus II student.

Dr. Chiorescu, who taught Linear Algebra and Calculus II, listed three benefits of using Maple in her classroom: "Maple increased focus on conceptual knowledge, provided connections between multiple representations, and helped to develop advanced mathematical thinking." A Linear Algebra student of Dr. Chiorescu’s reported that she enjoyed Maple because it simplified complex equations and helped her from getting lost in calculations.

After using Maple in their classrooms, the teachers at Georgia College reported that they not only enjoyed the engaging new way to teach math in their classrooms, but also felt confident that Maple prepared students for future careers in mathematics with its real world applications. Students also learned skills that they were surprised to find were applicable to other classes. "One of the most powerful features of Maple is its ability to evaluate expressions and find solutions to problems that would take an enormous amount of time to do by hand," said Dr. Chiorescu. Maple also trained students to discover errors and then follow the proper corrective procedures, ultimately enhancing reflection on past work and determining how to avoid similar problems in the future. "Although we had some concerns in the beginning about introducing this new approach in the classroom, Maple did not slow or hinder the students’ grasp of the concepts. In fact, Maple helped to transform the standard chalkboard method of teaching math."

The professors did surveys at the end of each course, asking students to evaluate their experiences with Maple. "Maple proved very popular with the students. Eighty-five percent reported that it was a substantial aid in their learning and believe it will be very useful in their future careers," said Dr. Chiorescu. However, it wasn’t just the students that reaped the benefits. The professors found that their own teaching practices were improved through the introduction of Maple. "Designing and preparing for Maple activities enhanced our perspectives for improving the usage of technology in the classroom and helped us to truly understand what it takes to create projects that deeply engage students in their learning," said Dr. Chiorescu. "A great collaboration was developed during this project and it is one that we hope will be a foundation for future successful projects. We are certainly going to continue with our use of Maple at Georgia College."

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