Computer games to improve children’s maths and science achievement

An independent evaluation of Stop and Think: Learning Counterintuitive Concepts has found evidence of a positive impact in maths and science outcomes for pupils in Key Stage 2.

The Learning Counterintuitive Concepts project, funded by the Education Endowment Foundation and Wellcome, aimed to improve science and maths achievement for Year 3 (7–8 year olds) and Year 5 (9–10 year olds) using an intervention called Stop and Think. When learning new concepts in science and maths, pupils must be able to inhibit prior contradictory knowledge and misconceptions to acquire new knowledge successfully. Stop and Think is a computer-assisted learning activity that aims to improve a learner’s ability to adapt to counterintuitive concepts by training them to inhibit their initial response, and instead, give a slower and more reflective answer.

The randomised controlled trial involved 6,672 children from 89 schools across England. The intervention was delivered to the whole class and consisted of 30 sessions delivered for a maximum of 15 minutes, three times a week, for 10 weeks at the start of maths or science lessons.

The results suggest that pupils who participated in Stop and Think made more progress in science and maths on average, compared to children in the business-as-usual control group.  The combined effect size across the two year groups for maths was +0.09 and +0.12 for science.

To check whether this impact was due to the Stop and Think game specifically, or was a result of the extra pupil engagement and motivation arising from having a fun computer-based activity at the start of lessons more generally, schools were offered an alternative computer-based programme that did not include any content from Stop and Think. Intervention-group pupils also made more progress than pupils in this “active” control group. The combined effect sizes for maths and science were +0.13 and +0.15 respectively.

Source: Stop and Think: Learning counterintuitive concepts. Evaluation report (September 2019), Education Endowment Foundation

Gamers score higher on PISA than social media climbers

A recent study by Alberto Posso at Australia’s Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology examined the pattern of teenagers’ internet usage and its relationship to their reading, maths, and science scores on the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

PISA is an international survey used to analyse educational systems based on 15-year-old students’ performance in reading, math, and science in randomly chosen schools. The PISA survey also collects information on how often teens use technology and for what purpose, as well as household information such as parents’ education and occupations.

After analysing the scores of 12,000 Australian high school students in the most recent 2012 survey, and after controlling for differences such as socioeconomic status, parents’ education, and other variables that might affect students’ educational outcomes, teenagers who played video games on a regular basis scored 15 points above average in maths and reading and 17 points above average in science, while teenagers who used social media daily scored 4% below average in maths. The article discusses the possible reasons for this disparity, including the fact that certain video games require students to apply academic knowledge to progress to higher levels. Social media use, however, reinforces little academic knowledge and can eat into studying time.

Source: Internet Usage and Educational Outcomes Among 15-Year-Old Australian Students (2016), International Journal of Communication

Does playing video games harm young children?

A new study has looked at the association between playing video games and young children’s mental health and cognitive and social skills.

Published in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, the study used data from the School Children Mental Health Europe project, conducted in six European countries (Germany, The Netherlands, Romania, Lithuania, Bulgaria, and Turkey). More than 3,000 children aged 6-11 took part in the study in 2010. Parents were asked how long their child played video games each week, provided demographic information, and completed a Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ, a measure of mental health status) for the child. Teachers also completed the SDQ for each child, and evaluated the child’s academic performance and motivation at school. Children completed Dominic Interactive, a computerised assessment tool for mental health status.

Results showed that factors associated with video game usage included being older, a boy, and belonging to a medium-sized family. Having a less-educated, single, inactive, or psychologically distressed mother decreased time spent playing video games. The results were adjusted for child age and gender, number of children, mother’s age, marital status, psychological distress, and other demographic characteristics. This showed that high video game usage (more than five hours each week) was significantly associated with higher intellectual functioning, increased academic achievement, a lower prevalence of peer relationship problems, and a lower prevalence of mental health difficulties.

Source: Is Time Spent Playing Video Games Associated with Mental Health, Cognitive and Social Skills in Young Children? (2016), Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology.

Game over?

A new report from the National Children’s Bureau Northern Ireland (NCB NI) has shown a link between gaming and GCSE attainment. The authors found that only two-fifths (41%) of pupils who reported using a portable games player a couple of times a day achieved 5 A*-C grades compared to over three-quarters (77%) of those who reported rarely using one. However, no relationship was observed between social networking and GCSE attainment.

The two-year longitudinal study focused on a cohort of secondary pupils (n=978) from 13 schools in some of the most deprived areas of Northern Ireland. The authors used data from surveys and focus groups, as well as GCSE results, with the aim of gaining a better picture of young people’s access to information technology, as well as their usage, attitudes toward it, and skills levels.

As well as the impact on GCSE results, headline findings included:

  • The vast majority (95%) of young people had access to a computer/laptop at home, but this still left around 1,000 young people without access and potentially at a significant disadvantage.
  • Young people were spending a significant amount of time online each day, with one third spending four hours or more online in Year 1 of the study rising to 40% in Year 2.
  • School staff were particularly concerned about the extent of gaming, reporting a number of issues relating to attendance, punctuality, and motivation. Particular issues were identified in relation to male pupils, with gaming addiction noted in some instances.

These findings reflect another recent report included in Best Evidence in Brief last month.

Source: ICT & Me: A Research Study Examining How Young People’s Use of ICT and the Amount of Screentime Impacts on GCSE Attainment (2015), National Children’s Bureau.

Screen addicts missing out on GCSE potential

A new article in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity investigated the association between GCSE results and three aspects of the way that teenagers had spent their time when they were 14.5 years old:

  1. Physical activity
  2. Screen time sedentary behaviour (TV/films, internet, computer games)
  3. Non-screen sedentary behaviour (reading, homework)

The study was based on 845 teenagers from Cambridgeshire and Suffolk. Data was taken from the ROOTS study, which aims to determine the relative contributions of genetic, physiological, psychological, and social variables to well-being and mental health during adolescence. Trained researchers administered questionnaires, conducted physical measurements, and gave instructions regarding physical activity measurements at participating schools.

The participants’ median daily screen time was approximately 1.9 hours. The authors found that teenagers reporting an extra hour of daily screen time at 14.5 years old achieved 9.3 fewer GCSE points (almost two grades lower) at 16. All three separate screen behaviours were independently negatively associated with academic performance.

However, participants doing an extra hour of daily homework and reading (up to four hours/day) achieved 23.1 more GCSE points (an increase of four grades). Physical activity did not appear to be either detrimental or beneficial to academic performance.

Other findings included that boys were more active and less sedentary than girls, and boys reported more screen time but less non-screen sedentary time than girls. Girls had higher academic performance than boys.

The authors noted some limitations in the study, including the possibility that less-academic pupils are likely to be doing the less-academic subjects and may be given less homework.

Source: Revising on the Run or Studying on the Sofa: Prospective Associations Between Physical Activity, Sedentary Behaviour, and Exam Results in British Adolescents (2015), International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 12(106).

Virtual penguins: evidence not all black and white

Spatial-Temporal (ST) Math is game-based instructional software designed to boost mathematics comprehension and proficiency through visual learning. Students apply maths concepts to help a virtual penguin overcome obstacles.

A WestEd evaluation of ST Math looked at 219 second to fifth grade students (Key Stage 2) in 129 schools that used the game for one year. The students demonstrated a 6.3% gain or better on the California Standards Test (CST) compared to matched students at similar schools that did not use the program.

The evaluation used a matched-comparison (a quasi-experimental design alternative to a randomized-control trial). The authors recognised that the comparison groups may have differed in ways that were not measured, particularly because the intervention groups were in schools that elected to implement the ST Math program.

This report builds on the findings of an earlier WestEd report of ST Math in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

In a separate report, a large randomized experiment evaluated ST Math in 52 California elementary schools over a two-year period. In that study, the effect size on state CST scores averaged only +0.06 and was not statistically significant.

Source: Evaluation of the MIND Research Institute’s Spatial-Temporal Math (ST Math) Program in California (2014), WestEd