Seeing the World through a Mathematical Lens: A Place-Based Mobile App for Creating Math Walks

August 1st, 2021 - July 31st, 2026 | PROJECT

This award is funded in whole or in part under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (Public Law 117-2).

Math is everywhere in the world, but youth may see math as disconnected from their everyday experiences and wonder how math is relevant to their lives. There is evidence that informal math done by children is highly effective, involving efficiency, flexibility, and socializing. Yet, more is needed to understand how educators can support math engagement outside of school, and the role these out-of-school experiences can play relative to the classroom and lifelong STEM learning. This Innovations and Development Project seeks to conduct research on a location-based mobile app for informal mathematics learning. This research takes place at 9 informal learning sites and involves iteratively designing an app in which learners can view and contribute to an interactive map of math walk “stops” at these sites. Learners will be able to select locations and watch short videos or view pictures with text that describe how mathematical principles are present in their surroundings. For example, learners could use the app to discover how a painting by a local Latino artist uses ratio and scale, or how a ramp in downtown was designed with a specific slope to accommodate wheelchairs. Research studies will examine the affordances of augmented reality (AR) overlays where learners can hold up the camera of their mobile device, and see mathematical representations (e.g., lines, squares) layered over real-world objects in their camera feed. Research studies will also examine the impact of having learners create their own math walk stops at local informal learning sites, uploading pictures, descriptions, and linking audio they narrate, where they make observations about how math appears in their surroundings and pose interesting questions about STEM ideas and connections they wonder about.

This project draws on research on informal math learning, problem-posing, and culturally-sustaining pedagogies to conduct cycles of participatory design-based research on technology-supported math walks. The research questions are: How does posing mathematical scenarios in community-imbedded math walks impact learners’ attitudes about mathematics? How can experiencing AR overlays on real world objects highlight mathematical principles and allow learners to see math in the world around them? How can learners and informal educators be engaged as disseminators of content they create and as reviewers of mathematical content created by others? To answer these questions, five studies will be conducted where learners create math walk stops: without technology (Study 1), with a prototype version of the app (Study 2), and with or without AR overlays (Study 3). Studies will also compare children's experiences receiving math walk stops vs. creating their own stops (Study 4) and explore learners reviewing math walk stops made by their peers (Study 5). Using a community ethnography approach with qualitative and quantitative process data of how youth engage with the app and with each other, the project will determine how the development of math interest can be facilitated, how learner-driven problem generation can be scaffolded, and under what circumstances app-based math walks are most effective. The results will contribute to research on the development of interest, problem-posing, informal mathematics learning, and digital supports for STEM learning such as AR. This project will promote innovation and have strategic impact through a digital infrastructure that could be scaled up to support STEM walks anywhere in the world, while also building a local STEM learning ecosystem among informal learning sites focused on informal mathematics. This project is a partnership between Southern Methodist University, a nonprofit, talkSTEM that facilitates the creation of community math walks, and 9 informal learning providers. The project will directly serve approximately 500 grades 4-8 learners and 30-60 informal educators. The project will build capacity at 9 informal learning sites, which serve hundreds of thousands of students per year in their programming.

This Innovations in Development project is supported by the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program, which seeks to (a) advance new approaches to and evidence-based understanding of the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments; (b) provide multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences; (c) advance innovative research on and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments; and (d) engage the public of all ages in learning STEM in informal environments.

Project Website(s)

(no project website provided)

Team Members

Candace Walkington, Principal Investigator, Southern Methodist University
Anthony Petrosino, Co-Principal Investigator
Cathy Ringstaff, Co-Principal Investigator
koshi dhingra, Co-Principal Investigator
Elizabeth Stringer, Co-Principal Investigator


Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)
Award Number: 2115393
Funding Amount: $1,270,132.00


Audience: Educators | Teachers | Elementary School Children (6-10) | Middle School Children (11-13) | Museum | ISE Professionals
Discipline: Mathematics
Resource Type: Project Descriptions | Projects
Environment Type: Exhibitions | Media and Technology | Parks | Outdoor | Garden Exhibits | Websites | Mobile Apps | Online Media