Positive results for early years maths apps

A randomised controlled trial of two new maths apps to support young children’s early maths development has shown positive results. The apps, “Maths 3–5” and “Maths 4–6”, are based on core mathematical concepts in number and shape, and space and measure, which are covered in the Early Years Foundation Stage, and also start to introduce children to topics covered in Key Stage 1.

Laura Outhwaite and colleagues conducted the randomised controlled trial of the apps with 389 children aged 4–5 years from 12 schools in the UK. The trial took place over 12 weeks in the last weeks of their Reception school year before pupils moved to Key Stage 1. Pupils were randomised to either use the apps in addition to standard maths teaching activities (treatment); use the apps instead of a regular small group-based maths activity (time-equivalent treatment), or continue with usual maths teaching activities (control).

The results showed that pupils in the treatment group made more progress on standardised assessments of maths performance over 12 weeks than pupils in the control group (effect size = +0.31). Similarly, pupils in the time-equivalent treatment made more progress in maths performance than pupils in the control group (effect size = +0.21). There was no significant difference in maths performance between pupils in the two treatment groups (effect size = +0.08).

A randomised controlled trial of apps developed for primary children in Malawi, which we covered in a previous issue of Best Evidence in Brief, also showed positive results for maths achievement.

Source: Raising early achievement in math with interactive apps: A randomized control trial (February 2019), Journal of Educational Psychology, 111(2)

The effects of cooperative learning in middle school on reducing bullying

While many studies show positive effects of cooperative learning on pupil achievement, a recent study examined the effects of cooperative learning on reducing bullying in middle school.

A total of 15 rural schools (n=1,460 seventh graders) in the Pacific Northwest were matched based on size and free-lunch percentage, and then seventh graders (Year 8) were randomly assigned to either receive a cooperative learning programme (n=792) or to continue business as usual (n=668). The cooperative learning programme used techniques by Johnson & Johnson, incorporating peer tutoring, collaborative reading, and methods where classmates rely on each other to learn new information while being held individually accountable for what they have learned. The theory behind this study was that in cooperative groups, bullies would not be reinforced by their peers to continue bullying, and socially isolated pupils would have opportunities to interact with others more and make new friends. All participating teachers received a copy of Cooperation in the Classroom and received three training days in person, and check-ins by video conference during the course of the 2016–17 school year. Pre-tests and post-tests (online surveys completed by pupils) evaluated pupils’ bullying and victimisation, stress levels, emotional problems, relatedness and engagement.

After five-and-a-half months of the cooperative learning programme, results showed significant reductions in bullying (effect size = +0.37), victimisation (+0.69), and stress levels (>+0.99) for pupils who had been shown to be marginalised at pre-test, and reduced emotional problems (+0.30) and greater relatedness (+0.43) for all pupils, regardless of their feelings of victimisation/isolation at pre-test.

Source: Cooperative learning in middle school: A means to improve peer relations and reduce victimization, bullying, and related outcomes (November 2018), Journal of Educational Psychology, 110(8)

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)

Social skills intervention programme shows small positive effects

Results from a study published in the Journal of Education Psychology suggest that a classroom social skills programme, The Social Skills Improvement System Classwide Intervention Program (SSIS-CIP), generally has small positive effects on social skills and approaches to learning.

James Clyde DiPerna and colleagues from the Pennsylvania State University evaluated the effects of SSIS-CIP on the social, behavioural and academic outcomes of Year 2 pupils from six primary schools in the mid-Atlantic region of the US. Classrooms were randomly assigned to either treatment or business-as-usual control groups. Teachers assigned to the treatment group implemented the SSIS-CIP over a 12-week period. Outcomes were assessed via teacher ratings and direct observations of classroom behaviour as well as computer-adaptive tests of reading and maths.

Results showed that SSIS-CIP has a small positive effect on social skills across all social skills subscales (effect sizes ranged from +0.13 to +0.31), with empathy and social engagement showing the largest positive effects (+0.31 and +0.21). The direct observation measure, however, yielded the smallest effect size (+0.05). Students in the treatment group also demonstrated positive effects on academic motivation and engagement (+0.17). However, SSIS-CIP did not demonstrate any substantial effects for problem behaviours, with effect sizes across subscales ranging from +0.01 to +0.07.

Source: A cluster randomized trial of the Social Skills Improvement System-Classwide Intervention Program (SSIS-CIP) in first grade (2018), Journal of Educational Psychology, 110(1), 1-16.

Reducing achievement gaps in academic writing

A study published in Journal of Educational Psychology reports on two years of findings from a randomised controlled trial of the Pathway Project, an intervention designed to reduce achievement gaps in academic writing for pupils who are Latino or have English as an Additional Language (EAL).

Ninety-five teachers from 16 secondary schools in the Anaheim Union High School District – a large, diverse, low-socioeconomic status, urban district with over 33,000 pupils (60% Latino and 66% EAL) – were randomly assigned to the treatment (Pathway) or control condition. Teachers in the Pathway group took part in a 46-hour professional development programme where they were trained to help improve pupils’ interpretative reading and text-based analytical writing using a cognitive strategies approach.

Findings from the study show promising results in both years of the intervention that appear to close the achievement gap in writing outcomes for Latino pupils and EALs in grades 7 to 12 (Years 8-13). In the first year of the trial, Pathway pupils gained 0.99 points more for an on-demand academic writing assessment than control pupils, which was highly statistically significant. Significant effects were attained for all grade levels except 12th grade (Year 13). The second year also showed a large positive, significant effect of the intervention on the full sample. Pre- and post-test scores for the academic writing assessment showed an effect size of +0.48 in the first year and +0.60 in the second year.

Programme effects were positive and significant for all the language groups, with the very largest occurring for EALs. This suggests that the Pathway Project may be particularly beneficial for pupils still in the process of learning English. In addition, pupils in the Pathway group had higher odds than pupils in the control group of passing the California Higher School Exit Exam in both years.

Source: Reducing achievement gaps in academic writing for Latinos and English learners in Grades 7–12 (January 2017), Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol 109(1), 1-21.

Improving reading comprehension for English learners

A randomised controlled trial, published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, has examined the impact of a version of the PACT reading comprehension and content acquisition intervention, which was modified to meet the needs of pupils with English as an Additional Language (EALs), in eighth-grade (Year 9) social studies classes.

Sharon Vaughn and colleagues carried out the trial with schools with moderate to high concentrations of EALs. In the selected schools, all eighth-grade (Year 9) social studies teachers participated, and classes were randomly assigned to the treatment or comparison condition. Each teacher taught both PACT treatment classes and comparison classes, and the same social studies content was delivered to pupils in both conditions, but with the interrelated components of PACT included in the treatment classes.

Pupils in the treatment group did better than pupils in the comparison group on measures of content knowledge acquisition and content reading comprehension, but not general reading comprehension. Both EALs and non-EALs who received the intervention performed better on measures of content knowledge acquisition (effect size = 0.40) and content-related reading (effect size = 0.20).

Source: Improving content knowledge and comprehension for English language learners: Findings from a randomized control trial (January 2017), Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol 109(1)