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)

How parents respond to increased class size

A new working paper from the Swedish Ministry of Employment explores the responses of parents to variations in class size caused by a maximum class size rule in Swedish schools. This includes analysis by parental income.

The authors found that in response to an increase in class size: (1) only high-income parents helped their children more with homework; (2) all parents were more likely to move their child to another school; and (3) only low-income children found their teachers harder to follow when taught in a larger class.

Data for the study was taken from the Evaluation Through Follow-up (ETF) project, run by Göteborg University. This contains measures of pupil performance in the final year of upper primary school for roughly a 10% sample of the cohorts born in 1967, 1972, and 1982, and a 5% sample for the cohort born in 1977. The project included questionnaires distributed when pupils were 13 with information about the behaviour of parents, children, and teachers. In addition, data on parental income and education was taken from the Income Tax Register and the Educational Register.

The authors suggest that their findings help explain why the negative effect of class size on achievement is greater among low-income pupils.

Source: Parental Responses to Public Investments in Children: Evidence from a Maximum Class Size Rule (2015), Institute for Evaluation of Labour Market and Education Policy.