Math, Abstraction, Play, Learning, and Embodiment

Erin Ottmar, PhD

Learning Sciences, Technologies, and Psychology

Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Welcome to the MAPLE Lab at 

This lab is directed by Professor Erin Ottmar in the Learning Sciences and Technologies Program and the Social Science and Policy Studies Department. We are located in the Learning Sciences Lab in Room 320 in Unity Hall.

We use an interdisciplinary approach that integrates theories and methods from cognitive, developmental, and educational psychology, mathematics education, computer science, and the learning sciences. 

Lab mission

Under the direction of Erin Ottmar, our team engages in various research projects all with the intent to improve the teaching and learning process. Teaching and learning mathematics is a highly complex social, exploratory, and creative process. The mission of the MAPLE Lab is to apply research-based embodied approaches to research intuitive and fluid math learning interfaces by making “math come alive” with technology (Graspable Math, From Here to There!). We examine mathematical teaching and learning using multiple levels of analysis: qualitative observational research methods, behavioral assessments of cognitive, social, and emotional competencies in classrooms, quantitative multilevel methods, educational data mining, and implement interventions aimed to improve K-12 math teaching, learning, and engagement. We take the perspectives of perceptual learning and embodied cognition to design educational games in formal and informal learning contexts, and develop actionable knowledge for teachers and researchers to improve student learning.  

We LOVE learning and thinking about how people learn and think about math. How can technology facilitate learning and engagement? How does mathematics knowledge develop over time? Why are so many people so afraid of math while others are so in love with it? Why do some people view math like a puzzle or game while others view them as confusing procedural rules and algorithms? What strategies do people use when they solve mathematics problems? Where do people get stuck? What are mathematical and contextual predictors of mathematics learning and achievement? What does good mathematics teaching look like? Why is teaching math so hard? What skills (other than math knowledge) are required to successfully teach, learn, and understand mathematics? These are just a few of the questions we try to answer in our research. 


Welcome to Puyuan Zhang!

Puyuan Zhang is a new postdoc in the lab! She just arrived from the University of Hong Kong. We are so glad to have you! 

New NSF Grant Awarded!  

 Ji-Eun Lee (WPI) and Anthony Botelho (University of Florida and WPI alum!) were awarded a 2 year EAGER RETTL grant from NSF to examine collaborative problem solving in mathematics

New NSF Grant Awarded!  

Erin Ottmar was awarded a 3 year NSF BCSER grant to examine how web-based eye gaze and cognitive control measures could be embedded into classroom online experiments to unpack the mechanisms of perceptual cues on students math performance and learning! Stay tuned for results. 

New CRPE Grant Awarded!  

 Ji-Eun Lee, Erin Ottmar, and Megan Kuhfeld (HMH/NWEA) were awarded a 1 year grant from the Center for Reimagining Public Education and the Walton Family Foundation to examine the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on high school students math performance and course taking trajectories nationally! Stay tuned for results! 

New NSF Grant Awarded!  

Erin Ottmar, Ji-Eun Lee, Avery Harrison (Purdue, LST PhD 2022), and Caroline Hornburg (VT),  were awarded a 3 year NSF EHR Core Grant to examine the role of perceptual cues on students math performance and learning! 


Hannah Smith- PhD! (She will be an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Assumption University!)

Paul Pacheco- Masters! He is staying for his PhD! 

Andrew McReynolds- Masters! He is staying for his PhD

Renah Razzaq- PhD! She is continuing to teach and inspire students at Doherty High School in Worcester! 

Cindy Trac- BS in Computer Science and Teaching License! 

Siddhartha Pradhan- BS in Computer Science and Data Science! He is staying for his Masters! 

Nellie Rushton (Doherty Memorial High School Valedictorian!) graduated from High School! She will be attending Stanford next year and is continuing Learning Sciences research! 

Congrats to Reilly Norum

Reilly won the 2023 Best Paper Award for Instructional Technology from the American Educational Research 

Association (AERA) for her senior thesis

Congrats to Paul Pacheco! 

Paul won the Honorary Undergraduate Research Award at the New England Psychological Association! 

Congrats to Nellie Rushton! 

Nellie, a high school senior at Doherty High School and a 3 year research assistant in our lab presented her work on Computational Thinking at NERA and NEPA Conferences! She also received the 2022 Worcester Young Woman of Consequence Award!!! She also got into Stanford and will be attending college next year! And she wants to continue Learning Sciences! 

Congrats to Paul Pacheco!

Also Accepted to the LST Masters Program! We are so excited you are staying with us for a few more years!! 

Congrats to Erin Ottmar!

Erin received an NSF CAREER Award!

Congrats to Jenny Yun-Chen Chan!

Jenny is a new Assistant Professor at the Education University of Hong Kong!

We miss you but are so excited for your new adventures!! 


Avery Closser- PhD! (Shes at Purdue for a Postdoc with David Purpura!)

Vy Ngo- Masters! She is a project coordinator for research. 

Luisa Perez-Lacera- Masters! She is doing educational data science research for a non-profit! 

Paul Pacheco- BS Psychology (He is staying for his masters and PhD in LST!)

Reilly Norum- BS Computer Science. She is working as a computer scientist at Staples! 

Lilly-Beth Linnel- BS Psychology (She is staying for her masters in Neuroscience!)

Congrats to Ji-Eun Lee! 

Jie-Eun Lee received the 2020 AERA Best Paper Award for Instructional Technology! CONGRATULATIONS JI-EUN! 

Congrats to Hannah Smith! 

MS,  Learning Sciences and Technologies 

Hannah Smith successfully defended her Masters on May 8! We can't wait to celebrate in person at Graduation in the Fall!  CONGRATULATIONS HANNAH!!! 

Congrats to Dr. Dan Manzo! 

PhD,  Learning Sciences and Technologies

Dan Manzo successfully defended his dissertation on April 22! We can't wait to celebrate in person at Graduation in the Fall!  CONGRATULATIONS DAN!!! 

Our own Avery Harrison was featured in the Spring 2020 WPI Journal!

Congrats to Avery!