Maths on a tablet helps low-performing pupils, for a while

Published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, Martin Hassler and colleagues carried out a randomised controlled trial or of a mathematics intervention on tablets (iPads).

The trial involved 283 low-performing second graders (Year 3) spread across 27 urban schools in Sweden. The children were randomised to four groups:

  • A maths intervention called Chasing Planets, consisting of 261 planets on a space map, each with a unique maths exercise (addition or subtraction up to 12). Pupils practised for 20 minutes a day.
  • The maths intervention combined with working memory training, where pupils spent an additional 10 minutes each day on working memory tasks.
  • A placebo group who practised mostly reading tasks on the tablet (again for 20 minutes each day), including Chasing Planets-Reading, which had a similar format to the maths intervention.
  • A control group who received no intervention, not even on improving their skills on the tablets.

The intervention lasted for around 20 weeks, with children completing nine measures at pre- and post-test, and then after six and 12 months.

Both maths conditions scored significantly higher (effect size = +0.53–0.67) than the control and placebo groups on the post-test of basic arithmetic, but not on measures of arithmetic transfer or problem solving. There was no additional benefit of the working memory training. The effects faded at the six-month follow-up (effect size = +0.18–0.28) and even more so after 12 months (effect size = +0.03–0.13).

IQ was a significant moderator of direct and long-term effects, such that children with lower IQ benefited more than higher IQ pupils. Socioeconomic factors did not moderate outcomes.

Source: Short and long-term effects of a mathematics tablet intervention for low performing second graders (November 2018), Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol 110(8)

Counting the benefits of new maths app

A new iPad app designed to bring maths into children’s homes through story time has led to improvements in achievement, according to new research published in Science. The results were particularly significant for children whose parents were anxious about the subject.

In Chicago, 587 families with a child aged 6 or 7 were recruited into the study. All were given an iPad mini and asked to use an app called Bedtime Learning Together (BLT) several times a week over the course of a school year. Of the families in the project, 420 were randomly assigned to use a maths version of the app, and 167 to a control group using a reading version. In each case, children and their parents were asked to read passages and answer corresponding questions that ranged in difficulty. Families could answer as many questions as they wanted during each interaction with the app.

The authors were able to track how often parents used the app with their children. In addition, each child’s maths achievement was assessed at school in a one-to-one session with a trained research assistant, using the Woodcock-Johnson Applied Problems scale, both at the beginning of the trial (before the iPads were distributed) and at the end of the school year.

The authors found that the maths intervention significantly increased children’s maths achievement across the school year compared to the reading control group, especially for children whose parents were habitually anxious about maths. Using the reading app did not have the same effect on maths achievement, showing that it was not academic engagement with parents in general that increased maths achievement, but engagement with maths content specifically.

The authors attribute the success of this app to its simplicity (avoiding distracting elements), and being designed to be used by parents and children together (based on the importance of early parental input, and specifically parent maths talk, for children’s achievement).

Source: Math at Home Adds up to Achievement in School (2015), Science, 350(6257).