Maths learning app offers some promising results

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has published the independent evaluation report of a trial of a maths-based learning app.

The “onebillion” programme consists of two maths learning apps, Maths 3–5 and Maths 4–6, that are designed to reinforce basic mathematical skills learned in the classroom. The apps are aimed at pupils aged 3–5 and 4–6 respectively and consist of mathematical activities organised around different topics such as counting, shape and measures. The trial, conducted by researchers at the University of Oxford, tested the impact of the apps on pupils in Year 2 who had been identified by their teachers as being in the bottom half of their class in maths at the start of the school year.

One hundred and thirteen schools from across England took part in the randomised controlled trial. Schools in the intervention group used the apps for half an hour, four days per week, for 12 weeks, in addition to regular maths lessons. All children started with the Maths 3–5 app and progressed to the Maths 4–6 app, once they had completed Maths 3–5. The children’s use of the apps was monitored by teaching assistants who were trained by a team from the University of Nottingham. Pupil achievement in maths was measured using the Progress Test in Maths 6.

Pupils who received the programme made significant additional progress in maths (effect size = +0.24) compared to the control group. However, the trial also suggested that there may have been a negative impact (effect size = -0.10) on pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM) compared to those in the control group, though this finding was non-significant. The report advises that teachers or school leaders using onebillion should carefully monitor the impact on FSM pupils if implementing the approach.

Source: Onebillion: Evaluation report (July 2019), Education Endowment Foundation

Research on writing approaches for pupils in Years 3 to 13

 This paper, written by Robert Slavin and colleagues from Johns Hopkins University, the University of Liege and the Institute for Effective Education, reviews research on the outcomes of writing interventions for pupils in Years 3 to 13. Studies had to meet rigorous standards of research including use of randomised or well-matched control groups; measures independent of the programme developers, researchers and teachers; and adequate sample size and duration. Fourteen studies of 12 programmes met the criteria and programmes were divided into three categories: writing process models, cooperative learning writing programmes, and programmes integrating reading and writing.

Pupil achievement effects on writing were positive in all categories, with an effect size of +0.18 across all 14 studies. Similar outcomes were found for writing programmes that focused on the writing process (effect size = +0.17), those using cooperative learning (effect size = +0.16), and those focusing on interactions between reading and writing (effect size = +0.19).

Source: A quantitative synthesis of research on writing approaches in Years 3 to 13 (July 2019), Education Endowment Foundation

AmeriCorps volunteers and pupil maths achievement

AmeriCorps is a US organisation that trains volunteers to serve the community in various civically-minded ways. A recent evaluation examined the effects on pupils’ maths achievement of training AmeriCorps volunteers to teach maths strategies to struggling maths pupils in grades 4–8 (Years 5–9). The volunteers used scripted protocols to teach three maths strategies to struggling pupils. Each strategy was studied in prior research and shown to have positive effects on achievement: concrete-representational-abstract, which uses concrete objects to teach concepts; cover-copy-compare, which teaches steps for computation and provides practice; and cognitive-strategy instruction, which teaches pupils to use procedures and reasoning to solve word problems.

AmeriCorps volunteers had to agree to a year-long, full-time commitment and received four days of training before starting the intervention, with additional training one and two months after. Each school received at least one volunteer from AmeriCorps, who was mentored by one school-staff member who was fully trained in the programme.

Subjects were 489 pupils in 150 Minnesota schools who were randomly assigned to either receive the intervention at the start of the school year (n=310), or to a control group who would receive the intervention a few months later (n=179). All pupils had scored below proficient in the prior year’s state maths assessment. During the intervention, pupil pairs with similar maths scores were to receive maths support for 90 minutes a week for a term. Post-tests using STAR Math were analysed two ways: the intent-to-treat analysis included all pupils who received the intervention, and showed significant positive effects as compared to the control group (effect size = +0.17); and the optimal dosage analysis that included pupils who received the targeted 12 weeks of intervention for at least an hour a week. Effect sizes for the experimental group increased to +0.24 when pupils were given the optimal dosage.

Source: Evaluation of a math intervention program implemented with community support (May 2019), Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, DOI: 10.1080/19345747.2019.1571653

Growing up digital

A report published by the Nuffield Foundation finds that computer use in schools does not on its own boost pupils’ digital literacy or prepare them for the workplace.

The report, written by Angela McFarlane, examines how digital technologies are used in schools to enhance learning, and identifies research questions to inform better practice and policy. It examines ten years of existing evidence on the effect the use of digital technology has on learning and finds that:

  • Putting computers into schools is no guarantee that there will be a positive impact on learning outcomes as measured in high-stakes assessments or on the development of digital literacy.
  • How digital technologies are used is as important as whether they are used.
  • There is no shared picture of what effective digital skills teaching looks like.
  • Teachers may not have opportunities to develop the skills they need to make effective use of technology.
  • The current use and knowledge of computer-based technology in schools and at home is leaving many young people unprepared for the world of work.

Source: Growing up digital: What do we really need to know about educating the digital generation? (July 2019), Nuffield Foundation

Changing mindsets

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has published findings from a large trial of an approach to “growth mindsets”, which aims to encourage in pupils the belief that intelligence can be developed through effort and dedication.

A total of 5,018 pupils from 101 schools in the UK took part in the trial of Changing Mindsets, a programme designed to improve maths and literacy grades by teaching Year 6 pupils that their brain potential is not a fixed entity but can grow and change through effort exerted. 

Teachers received professional development training on approaches to developing a growth mindset, together with lesson plans, interactive resources and practical classroom tips, before then delivering sessions to pupils over eight weeks. Teachers were encouraged to embed aspects of the “growth mindsets” approach throughout their teaching – for example, when giving feedback outside the sessions.

The independent evaluation, by a team from the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR), found no evidence that the pupils who took part in the programme made any additional progress in literacy or numeracy – as measured by standardised tests in reading, grammar, punctuation and spelling, and maths – compared to pupils in the control group. 

The EEF commentary advises that teachers should be cautious about using the approach as a standalone method of improving pupil achievement.

Source: Changing Mindsets: Effectiveness trial. Evaluation report (July 2019), Education Endowment Foundation

A systematic review of classroom-based mathematical interventions

The Nuffield Foundation has published a systematic review by researchers at Ulster University that analyses the outcomes of classroom-based mathematical interventions.

The systematic review included studies that assessed the outcomes of interventions aimed at improving maths achievement in primary school children. Forty-five randomised controlled trials were included along with thirty-five quasi-experimental studies. The studies were published between 2000 and 2017, and were mostly conducted in the US and Europe.

The results of the review suggest that there are effective strategies teachers can use to help with learning maths and being fluent with mathematical facts. It also found there are many different ways teachers can support children to have a wide bank of strategies to complete mathematical problems, and for children to know when is best to apply them. Technology in the classroom can also be helpful as long as these tools have been developed with a clear understanding of how children learn. 

The report concludes that the evidence base on mathematical interventions is weak, and recommends that researchers should test how effective mathematical interventions are in order to help teachers support children’s learning. 

Source: Interventions to improve mathematical achievement in primary school-aged children. A systematic review (June 2019), Nuffield Foundation