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Contact Information

(615) 343-2606
Wyatt Center 246


B.A., Psychology and French Franklin & Marshall College, 1999
M.A., Education Stanford University, 2001
Ph.D., Educational Psychology Stanford University, 2004

Curriculum Vitae

Melissa S. Gresalfi

Associate Professor of Mathematics Education & Director of Graduate Studies, Dept. of Teaching & Learning

Research Interests

Professor Gresalfi’s research considers cognition and social context by examining student learning as a function of participation in activity settings. Following a situative perspective on learning, she has investigated the development of dispositions towards learning in mathematics classrooms by examining how opportunities to learn are constructed in mathematics classrooms, and how, when, and why different students take up those opportunities. Using this lens, Gresalfi has explored the extent to which classroom practices are equitable and examined categories such as race, gender, and previous mathematical experience as they arise in interaction.

Gresalfi’s work on the design of learning environments has focused most specifically on the role of technology in supporting student learning. With Sasha Barab at Arizona State University, she has worked on several projects that have examined how particular design decisions in an educational videogame called Atlantis Remixed ( support student learning of math and science. In the context of this project, she has investigated the challenges and opportunities associated with scaling educational videogames nationally and globally. She has also extended this focus on technology to consider whether and to what extent students’ understanding of systems thinking is developed through sustained engagement in design activities that leverage different forms of technology. With Kylie Peppler at Indiana University, this work has resulted in the development of three curricular modules about designing systems, which are being published by MIT Press.

Current Projects

The Role of Feedback in Digital Games:

The goal of this project is to design and investigate the potential of videogame technologies for supporting formative and summative feedback for students and teachers. This project will examine the role of different forms of feedback on students’ learning and engagement with mathematics. Specifically, we will work in the context of two different immersive experiences (video games) designed as part of the Atlantis Remixed platform. We will design and study six different versions of these games in order to better understand how different forms of feedback (feedback that is directly tied to the narrative, directly tied to content, or a blend of both) as well as the timing of when feedback is given (its frequency and relation to major assessment moments) are related to how students actually work with the mathematical content (engagement) and what they eventually come to understand (learning). This project is funded by the National Science Foundation.

Re-crafting Mathematics Education:

This project seeks to better understand how mathematics is currently embedded in women's crafting practices and, more specifically, to build on those crafting practices to develop activities that allow students to see and experience mathematics in its application. This approach to teaching mathematics is tightly linked with the embodied cognition approach, which posits that the experiences of the body both are influenced by and also influence the functioning of the mind. Said differently, understanding mathematics by engaging the body offers opportunities to understand mathematics differently than when merely engaging with symbol systems (Lakoff & Nunez, 1997; 2000). Specifically, we focus on the ways in which women participate successfully in advanced mathematics throughout their lifetimes by considering women’s crafting activity, and then build on those instances of success to consider how to incorporate these practices into the institutional contexts from which women often turn away. This involves deeply understanding not just the context of the craft, but also the culture of crafting that continues to attract and maintain women’s participation. Our research questions target both the mathematical practices inherent in particular crafting traditions, as well as the individual mathematical reasoning of expert crafters as they engage in sustained practice.

Completed Projects

Grinding New Lenses:
This goal of this project is to empower students to view the world as a complex system. Viewing everyday situations from a systems-based perspective is an important aspect of literacy for students and teachers living in an increasingly digital society. The promise of understanding how systems work is that it creates a new and more effective lens for seeing, engaging, and changing the world (Jacobson & Wilensky, 2006). In a digital era, systems thinking takes on a new and increasing importance. This is because complex systems are important to our understanding and design of web-based communities, gaming environments, social networks, virtual economies, and most of our everyday online activities. In order to better understand how to support students to develop a lens towards seeing and interpreting the world in terms of the systems that organize it, we will create a modular curriculum framework for supporting the development of systems thinking. The goal of these designs is to help students understand how systems work, and look across contexts in order to recognize systems in multiple instantiations. Each module was built to leverage an existing technology that supports students’ engagement with design—GameStar Mechanic; Scratch, and the LilyPad Arduino. These modules are currently being published by MIT press. This project is funded by the MacArthur Foundation. Click here to read more about the upcoming books to be released October, 2014.