TV shows help parents teach early maths skills

A recent report by WestEd examined the effects of maths-related online activities and parental support materials from the US TV shows Sid the Science Kid, Curious George, and The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That on preschool children’s maths skills and their parents’ ability to support maths learning at home.

Two Head Start centres in a low-income area in California were randomly assigned to serve either as an experimental or control group for eight weeks. A total of 90 parent/child pairs were involved, with two-thirds eligible for free- or reduced-price lunches. The mean age of the children was 4 years, 5 months.

All children learned the same maths concepts addressed in the TV shows (numbers and base ten, measurement and data, and geometry and spatial sense). However, the experimental group were assigned to use related online maths material and parental support materials at home for 30 minutes a day, four days a week, as well as attending a weekly meeting addressing that week’s theme.

Post-tests showed that the experimental group scored significantly better than the control group in numerical sense. Parental awareness of their children’s maths ability increased over time, and parent surveys showed that they felt guided and supported by the meetings and competent to continue to help their children at home.

Source: Learning with PBS KIDS: A Study of Family Engagement and Early Mathematics Achievement (2015), WestEd.

Effects of a summer maths programme on algebra readiness

WestEd has released a study examining the effects of the Elevate Math summer mathematics programme on seventh-grade (Year 8) pupils’ algebra readiness, general maths achievement, and perceptions of maths.

Elevate Math is a four-week programme that pupils attend for 19 days in the summer for four hours a day. It addresses properties and operations, linear equations, ratios and multiple representations, and transformational geometry, with one hour spent on Khan Academy (a free online learning system). Elevate Math also incorporates a college visit to inspire pupils and 40 hours of professional development for teachers.

A total of 477 seventh-grade pupils at eight schools in California’s Silicon Valley who volunteered to take the course were randomly assigned to receive Elevate Math either at the beginning of the summer (treatment group) or the end of the summer (control group). The treatment group scored significantly higher than controls in tests of algebra readiness and general maths, however most pupils’ scores suggested they were still not ready for algebra. Pupil surveys showed that Elevate Math did not change attitudes towards maths or views of their maths competence.

Researchers stated that most pupils would need more support than solely Elevate Math in order to succeed in algebra. They also discuss how results indicated that Elevate Math reduced summer learning loss.

Source: The Effects of the Elevate Math Summer Program on Math Achievement and Algebra Readiness (2015), Institute of Education Sciences/WestEd.

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

A connection between school climate and school success

What makes successful schools different from other schools? What makes a school perform better than predicted given the characteristics of the children it serves? These were the questions posed in this study, which used data from over 1,700 California public middle and high schools. Researchers identified 40 schools that consistently performed better than predicted on standardised tests of maths and English. These schools were labeled “beating-the-odds” (BTO) schools.

The BTO schools had substantially more positive levels of school climate than other schools, as measured by the California Healthy Kids Survey. This examines such dimensions of the school environment as safety, academic supports, social relationships, and school connectedness. BTO schools had climate scores at the 82nd percentile, on average, whereas other schools were at the 49th percentile, on average. Differences in school climate were twice as large between BTO schools and 20 schools that were consistently performing worse than expected.

Source: A Climate for Academic Success: How School Climate Distinguishes Schools That Are Beating the Achievement Odds (2013), California Comprehensive Center.