Home computer use and children’s academic performance

A paper in the Oxford Review of Education examines the link between children’s home computer use and their academic performance in reading and maths. The study uses data from the nine-year-old cohort of the Growing Up in Ireland survey and a multiple regression model to estimate the effect of home computer use on reading and maths test scores. It finds that computer use is associated with increased scores. This result holds after taking into account other factors that determine school performance, and there is no significant difference in effect for the amount of use.

The study also looks at the effects of different types of computer use. Surfing the internet for fun, doing projects for school, and emailing are associated with higher reading and maths test scores, and children who use the computer unsupervised tend to have higher scores in maths, but instant messaging and downloading music or watching films are negatively associated with test scores. However, while these results indicate significant association with academic performance, the study was not able to establish a definitive direction of causation.

Source: Home computer use and academic performance of nine-year-olds (2012), Oxford Review of Education, 38(5)

Traditional teaching methods may be putting off maths pupils

Traditional teaching methods, where the teacher stands at the front and dictates to the class, may be affecting pupils’ attitudes toward maths, suggest researchers at the University of Manchester. The initial findings of the Economics and Social Research Council-funded study were presented at the British Educational Research Association’s annual conference.

More than 13,000 11- to 16-year-old pupils and 128 teachers at 40 secondary schools across England were asked to complete questionnaires detailing the kind of activities they experienced in maths lessons. Traditional activities such as copying the teacher’s notes from the board and being asked questions by the teacher were most frequently cited, ahead of alternative learning approaches such as using media, like magazines and videos, in class. Pupils who reported a more traditional teaching experience in their lessons also named maths as their least favourite subject.

The results of a 2009 review from the Institute for Effective Education,Effective programmes in secondary mathematics, found that the most successful programmes for teaching maths focus on changing daily teaching practices, particularly the use of co-operative learning methods, and encourage pupil interaction.

Sources: What works in teaching maths? (2009), Institute for Effective Education

Teaching and learning practices in secondary mathematics: measuring teaching from teachers’ and students perspectives (2012), Pampaka M, Wo L, Kalambouka A, Qasim S, and Swanson D, presentation at BERA Conference 2012

Improving mathematical problem solving

This practice guide from the What Works Clearinghouse in the US provides five recommendations for improving pupils’ mathematical problem solving in Grades 4 to 8 (the equivalent of Years 5 to 9). The guide is aimed at teachers and policymakers who want to improve the mathematical problem solving of pupils. Recommendations include:

  • Assisting pupils in monitoring and reflecting on the problem-solving process.
  • Teaching pupils how to use visual representations.
  • Exposing pupils to multiple problem-solving strategies.

The guide presents evidence-based suggestions for putting each recommendation into practice and describes the problems that may be encountered, as well as possible solutions. Each recommendation is rated based on the strength of the research evidence that has shown the effectiveness of the recommendation. The recommendations listed above have strong to moderate evidence of effectiveness.

Source: Improving mathematical problem solving in grades 4 through 8 (2012), What Works Clearinghouse

The effectiveness of education technology for enhancing maths achievement

Findings of this review of research into the effects of technology use on mathematics achievement suggest that educational technology applications produce a positive but small effect. This review was completed in 2011, but a new educator’s summary has been posted that presents the findings in a more accessible form.

The review, from the Johns Hopkins School of Education’s Center for Research and Reform in Education, examines three major categories of education technology:

  • comprehensive models, which use computer-assisted teaching alongside non-computer activities;
  • supplemental computer-assisted teaching programmes, which provide individualised computer-assisted instruction to supplement traditional classroom teaching; and
  • a computer-managed learning programme, Accelerated Math.

All three were found to produce a positive effect on mathematics achievement, with supplemental computer-assisted teaching programmes having the largest effect. The review concludes that educational technology is making some difference in mathematics learning, but new and better tools are needed to harness the power of technology to further enhance mathematics achievement for all students.

Source: The effectiveness of educational technology applications for enhancing mathematics achievement: A meta-analysis (2012), Best Evidence Encyclopedia

Self-paced learning looks promising

A new study by the Institute for Effective Education has shown that self-paced learning could produce significant gains in primary maths learning. In self-paced learning pupils answer, at their own pace, questions delivered directly to electronic handsets.

The technology instantly marks the responses and feeds back the results to both pupil and teacher. Teachers can use this formative assessment to help pupils and guide future teaching. Significant gains in pupils’ mathematical learning were made by those pupils using the self-paced learning technology.

Source: Self-paced learning: Effective technology-supported formative assessment report on achievement findings (2011), Institute for Effective Education