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How a Simple Tweak Made a Huge Difference in Learning Math

The Quest of a More Effective Teaching Method

While experimenting and searching for a softer and less ‘threatening’ approach when teaching math, a group of teachers stumbled upon a simple tweak that is helping struggling students cope a lot better with math.

This new method of teaching is helping students get back on track and ‘enjoy’ learning math again.

The results were compelling enough to inspire the educators to conduct an experiment involving independent students and tested the effectiveness of this method.

In the weeks that followed a survey was done with the aim of finding 12 families with children in the school system that were lagging behind at least two years in math.

A number of families were visited and their children assessed, until the 12 families were selected.

The selection criteria were simple. All that was required was to give each child in the family an assessment that was two years below their current grades.─ A student who scored good marks on two previous years’ tests was not considered for the ‘experiment.’ 

During the selection process, it was found that many children─ about 7 out of 10 ─ could not do simple multiplication, division or had any knowledge of the times tables.

Finally a dozen families, within this‘worst case scenario’, were selected.

So, with a 40% minimum increase benchmark set and unanimously agreed, everyone set out to accomplish the‘impossible’.

The Process

The Team decided to separate the 12 selected families into two groups of 6 with each group using a different learning system.

The first group was to use video lessons followed by questions with no worked out solutions ─ just as would a teacher in the classroom. ─ All that the student had to do was to watch a lesson on video, view an example of answering a question and proceed to answer a few questions on their own.

They were asked to study 3 times a week for a period of 25 to 30 minutes each time.

The second group of students was simply given a series of lessons which consisted of a brief 2 minutes tutorial, and was required to answer questions with the option of watching worked-out solutions whenever they got stuck.

The latter were allowed to ‘cheat’, so to speak, by watching how to answer each question before even attempting them as opposed to the first group which wasn’t allowed to view any solutions.

Diagnostic Test

Now that the stage was set, an initial diagnostic ‘test’ was given to every student of both groups with a study program to follow, starting two years below their current grades.

For example, if a student was in Year 9 and another in Year 8, the one in Year 9 would go back and do grade 7 math and the Year 8 student would start from Year 6, and so on.

The aim was to get them to cover all the basics in math for the previous two years.

The Experiment

For the first group each lesson was to be viewed until fully understood, followed by 10 questions.

Bear in mind that the first group was watching a classroom video lesson where a teacher is teaching a concept, followed by questions that were required to be answered without any help.

Whereas the second group had all their solutions worked out and would only answer the questions after making sure that they fully understood how to work out the solution step by step.

The parents of the second group were to make sure that their children viewed the solutions if they so desired before they started answering the questions.

Access to the ‘programs’ for both groups was 3 times a week ─ 20-30 minutes per session, as mentioned─ for a period of 6 months, the duration of the experiment.

We set up a learning schedule to allow all the lessons to be completed within the allocated 6 months period.

The students were then asked to learn their times tables off by heart ─ something that only a few schools can brag about doing.

The students followed all the instructions to the letter and a teacher visited the families every two weeks to make sure everything was going as planned.

Three Months Later

Three months later, half way into the experiment, each student was given a test similar to the original two years back diagnostic test.

Both groups’ marks were up by 30% on an average. That was very gratifying, and the parents were quite happy.

The results of the tests were enough motivation for the children, as well as the parents, to stick to their schedules and achieve their target at the end of the experiment.

The teacher visits stopped after 3 months but the families were contacted weekly for the last 3 months just to make sure that everything was being carried out smoothly.

We were being assured, very enthusiastically, that all was well and going as planned.

The Final Assessment

Six months later a teacher contacted the families to conduct a final assessment as the final phase of the experiment.

On D day we were all there. The children were nervous, but quite excited.

It was obvious that there has been much preparation and anticipation for the test.

We could also sense that they couldn’t wait to have all this behind them.

This time they were given their previous year’s test.

The results were as follows: The second group was averaging 85% as compared to 65% for the first group

An investigation later revealed that the students in the first group have been finding it difficult to complete the follow up questions and had to do their own research in order to answer the questions correctly.

That after a while into the experiment, stress level was high and concentration was average.

Pre-test revision for the final for that group was traumatic, to say the least, as the students had to spend a lot of time reviewing lessons by going over their notes and answers.

The second group on the other hand answered most of the questions without any help and with little stress during the whole course of the experiment.

They seemed to remember how to answer most of the questions. As a matter of fact they were looking forward to the final assessment.

For revision, just before the final test, they had to log into the system and review the worked- solutions to refresh their memory.

The test was given and the results spoke for themselves.