The Reflective Educator

Education ∪ Math ∪ Technology

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Day: June 3, 2011

Research on effective math education programs

Richard DeMerchant shared this study with me today. It is a review of studies done in mathematics education research, specifically 189 studies which used good research practices. Here are the key findings from this review.

"Programs designed to change daily teaching practices – particularly through the use of cooperative learning, classroom management, and motivations programs – have larger impacts on student achievement than programs that emphasize textbooks or technology alone.

The most successful math programs encourage student interaction."

So in other words, programs like what I recommend, and a constructivist approach to math education, are better than just changing how students access information

An interesting finding of the study was "there was very little evidence that it mattered which curriculum was used, as none of the curricula showed any strong evidence of effectiveness." In other words, a focus on changing curriculum isn’t going to have much of an impact on improving student understanding of mathematics.

This finding to me suggests that Bill Gates attempts to use the Khan Academy as a replacement for teachers are particularly misguided. At least Sal has come out and indicated that he doesn’t see himself as a replacement for a teacher.

In the 40 qualifying studies [of computer assisted learning programs] that looked at these various programs, there was little evidence of effectiveness. No program stood out as having large and replicated effects, and computer managed learning systems were particularly ineffective.

The implications for mathematics education, as the authors state, are as follows:

  1. Teachers can significantly enhance mathematics learning by adopting cooperative learning.
  2. Teachers can change their classroom management and motivation strategies to improve student outcomes.
  3. Professional development works.
  4. The evidence did not support the idea that different curricula give different outcomes in terms of mathematics achievement.
  5. There is limited evidence in elementary schools – and even less evidence in middle and high schools – that CAI math programs are effective.

One of the things I love about this study is the list of programs found to be effective, along with contact information (or a link to a website) so that you can follow up and try out these programs. There is also a list of programs for which the research that exists does not meet the reviewer’s qualifications for inclusion, and a list of programs which the reviews found to the research suggests are ineffective.

What implications does this have for your math program?

Let’s Abolish Elementary School Mathematics

First watch this video, right to the end.

I love the analogies Gordon uses to describe how we should reform elementary school mathematics. He also has an excellent argument against "real world" mathematics. What he prefers to use instead is "engaging" mathematics and I am happy to reform my own use of "real world" to "engaging" as it is a more inclusive term, and includes more mathematical ideas than the more simplistic real world focus. For more information on Gordon’s approach to mathematics, see http://www.mathpickle.com

How can we make mathematics at all levels more engaging? Gordon suggests games, problems which are open ended and apply to a wide variety of learners, and abolishing our need for students to be "fast calculators" when computers can do this so much better.

What would you suggest?