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Project History

The AnimalWatch project was launched in 1995 at The University of Massachusetts-Amherst.  Many students start to lose interest in math towards the end of elementary school and, as the material gets more challenging, students also start to lose confidence in their ability to succeed in math.  Carole Beal from the Psychology Department and Beverly Woolf in the Computer Science Department began meeting with teachers in the region to talk about possible ways to keep students engaged with math as they moved from arithmetic to algebra topics.  Teachers suggested the idea of connecting math with environmental science.

  • With help from the New England Aquarium and a grant from the National Science Foundation (HRD 9555737) we created the first instructional module about the North Atlantic Right Whale. 
  • "WhaleWatch" was tested with students in Western Massachusetts, and our evaluation showed that students liked the program and that they felt more confident about their math skills after working with it.
  • The positive results helped us attract a second grant from the National Science Foundation (HRD 9714757) to expand the program to include more endangered species.  "AnimalWatch" was evaluated in several classroom studies with positive results.

In 2004, Dr. Beal moved to the Information Sciences Institute at the University of Southern California. With support from the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences (R305K05086) AnimalWatch was re-implemented as a web-based system. More engandered species topics were added, along with a wider range of math subjects. 

  • AnimalWatch was tested with middle school students attending the USC Saturday Academy program; these students learned as much as other students who had been tutored by a math teacher in a small group setting.
  • AnimalWatch was also implemented in math classes in several schools in the downtown area of Los Angeles.  The schools served diverse student populations, with high proportions of English Learners.  Evaluation studies showed that students improved from pre- to post-test after working with AnimalWatch. 
  • An experimental study was conducted in Massachusetts; students who worked with AnimalWatch showed significant improvement in math problem solving whereas students in a control group did not.

In 2008, Dr. Beal moved to The University of Arizona.  Under the direction of Dr. Steven Schneider at WestEd, an Efficacy Study of AnimalWatch is being conducted with support from the Institute of Education Sciences (R305K090197).  The goal is to find out if AnimalWatch practice throughout the school year will help students improve scores on the California Standards Test in mathematics. 

  • AnimalWatch was re-implemented to support the larger number of expected users, more environmental science material was added to ensure coverage of the Grade 6 math standards, and online Professional Development training materials were created.
  • The first cohort of teachers received professional development training in August 2010.
  • Students started using the program in Fall 2010 and will continue throughout the school year.

We are also involved in a separate project supported by the National Science Foundation (DRL 0903441) to study math problem solving by English Learners.  The goal is to add more features to AnimalWatch that can help students learn math while they are becoming proficient in English.  Learn more about the English Learner project.