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

New review of evidence on parental engagement

review of evidence published by the Education Endowment Foundation shows how parental engagement can have a positive effect on a child’s academic achievement – regardless of age or socioeconomic status.

The review, conducted by the Universities of Plymouth and Exeter and supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care South West Peninsula, concludes that parental engagement in children’s learning is associated with improved academic outcomes, and that the association is stronger when parental engagement is defined as parents’ expectations for their children’s academic achievement. All studies controlled for parents’ education and/or family socioeconomic status.

The review highlights areas of promise for how schools and early education settings can support parents in a way that improves their children’s learning. Examples include family literacy interventions to help boost younger children’s learning, and summer reading programmes that improve school-aged children’s learning, particularly among families from more disadvantaged backgrounds.

An overarching recommendation is the importance of schools planning and monitoring parental engagement activities to get the most out of them. Other recommendations look at the best ways to communicate with parents, and strategies for supporting learning at home.

The report also includes guidance on tailoring school communications to encourage parental engagement and offering more intensive support where needed.

Source: How can schools support parents’ engagement in their children’s learning? Evidence from research and practice (September 2019), Education Endowment Foundation

Maths learning app offers some promising results

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has published the independent evaluation report of a trial of a maths-based learning app.

The “onebillion” programme consists of two maths learning apps, Maths 3–5 and Maths 4–6, that are designed to reinforce basic mathematical skills learned in the classroom. The apps are aimed at pupils aged 3–5 and 4–6 respectively and consist of mathematical activities organised around different topics such as counting, shape and measures. The trial, conducted by researchers at the University of Oxford, tested the impact of the apps on pupils in Year 2 who had been identified by their teachers as being in the bottom half of their class in maths at the start of the school year.

One hundred and thirteen schools from across England took part in the randomised controlled trial. Schools in the intervention group used the apps for half an hour, four days per week, for 12 weeks, in addition to regular maths lessons. All children started with the Maths 3–5 app and progressed to the Maths 4–6 app, once they had completed Maths 3–5. The children’s use of the apps was monitored by teaching assistants who were trained by a team from the University of Nottingham. Pupil achievement in maths was measured using the Progress Test in Maths 6.

Pupils who received the programme made significant additional progress in maths (effect size = +0.24) compared to the control group. However, the trial also suggested that there may have been a negative impact (effect size = -0.10) on pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM) compared to those in the control group, though this finding was non-significant. The report advises that teachers or school leaders using onebillion should carefully monitor the impact on FSM pupils if implementing the approach.

Source: Onebillion: Evaluation report (July 2019), Education Endowment Foundation

Research on writing approaches for pupils in Years 3 to 13

 This paper, written by Robert Slavin and colleagues from Johns Hopkins University, the University of Liege and the Institute for Effective Education, reviews research on the outcomes of writing interventions for pupils in Years 3 to 13. Studies had to meet rigorous standards of research including use of randomised or well-matched control groups; measures independent of the programme developers, researchers and teachers; and adequate sample size and duration. Fourteen studies of 12 programmes met the criteria and programmes were divided into three categories: writing process models, cooperative learning writing programmes, and programmes integrating reading and writing.

Pupil achievement effects on writing were positive in all categories, with an effect size of +0.18 across all 14 studies. Similar outcomes were found for writing programmes that focused on the writing process (effect size = +0.17), those using cooperative learning (effect size = +0.16), and those focusing on interactions between reading and writing (effect size = +0.19).

Source: A quantitative synthesis of research on writing approaches in Years 3 to 13 (July 2019), Education Endowment Foundation

Changing mindsets

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has published findings from a large trial of an approach to “growth mindsets”, which aims to encourage in pupils the belief that intelligence can be developed through effort and dedication.

A total of 5,018 pupils from 101 schools in the UK took part in the trial of Changing Mindsets, a programme designed to improve maths and literacy grades by teaching Year 6 pupils that their brain potential is not a fixed entity but can grow and change through effort exerted. 

Teachers received professional development training on approaches to developing a growth mindset, together with lesson plans, interactive resources and practical classroom tips, before then delivering sessions to pupils over eight weeks. Teachers were encouraged to embed aspects of the “growth mindsets” approach throughout their teaching – for example, when giving feedback outside the sessions.

The independent evaluation, by a team from the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR), found no evidence that the pupils who took part in the programme made any additional progress in literacy or numeracy – as measured by standardised tests in reading, grammar, punctuation and spelling, and maths – compared to pupils in the control group. 

The EEF commentary advises that teachers should be cautious about using the approach as a standalone method of improving pupil achievement.

Source: Changing Mindsets: Effectiveness trial. Evaluation report (July 2019), Education Endowment Foundation

How engaged are teachers with research?

A research briefing published by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) looks at what progress has been made in embedding evidence-informed practice within teaching in England.

As part of the brief, researchers from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) summarised findings from a nationally representative survey of 1,670 schools and teachers. The survey was conducted between September and November 2017, and investigated teachers’ research use. The results of the survey suggest that:

  1. Research evidence continues to play a relatively small role in influencing teachers’ decision-making. Eighty-four percent of those surveyed said that their continuing professional development was based on information other than academic research.
  2. Most teachers report that their schools offer supporting environments, which enables evidence-informed practice to flourish. Seventy-three percent ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ that their school provided a positive culture for professional development and evidence use.
  3. Teachers report generally positive attitudes towards research evidence, despite the fact that research evidence had only a small influence on their decision-making.

Survey responses varied by school phase, by type of respondent, and by type of schools. Those who were more likely to report that their schools had a positive research culture, and that they used research to inform their selection of teaching approaches, were:

  • Senior leaders (as opposed to classroom teachers).
  • Primary school teachers (rather than secondary school teachers).
  • Schools with the lowest 25 percent of achievement (versus highest 25 percent achievement).

Source: Teachers’ engagement with research: what do we know? A research briefing (May 2019), Education Endowment Foundation