NSF funds research on math software

By Laura Ascione
November 12th, 2015

North Carolina State researchers hope findings will improve ST Math and other digital learning platforms

math-digitalThe National Science Foundation has granted $800k to North Carolina State University to use data mining techniques to study the game-based ST Math software program that’s currently used in 2,500 schools across the country.

Researchers hope the findings will help improve MIND Research Institute’s ST Math and other digital learning platforms that have cropped up in a number of classrooms.

The study will analyze millions of data points collected as students and teachers use ST Math, to explore how student behavior, student problem-solving methods and teacher actions influence learning outcomes and student motivation.

“Our larger goal with this study is to create better methods to analyze digital learning programs in ways that benefit students and teachers,” said Teomara Rutherford, assistant professor of educational psychology at NC State, and principal investigator of the study. “There are woefully few STEM programs available to schools that meet the federal standards for evidence, meaning that they can prove they actually work. So we need new, better methods to both estimate the impact of programs and to inform teachers and software developers about how to get the most out of them.”

Rutherford’s three-year study will collect and analyze data from approximately 41,200 third and fourth grade students who use ST Math in five districts across the country. The districts have a large number of students with demographics that are typically underrepresented in the STEM fields: science, technology, engineering and math.

Researchers expect the study will help identify best practices for teachers when using ST Math, as well as provide information to help developers modify the ST Math program to improve student learning.

The study will explore how students’ actions and behaviors in the self-paced ST Math software program—such as replaying easy puzzles instead of moving on to more difficult ones, or responding to a particularly tricky problem—influence their learning outcomes and motivation.

Researchers also aim to shed light on how teachers’ actions and choices influence digital learning in their classrooms. For example, they will look at the learning impact when teachers incorporate ST Math games into their classroom lessons, and the effect of allowing certain struggling students to skip some games in order to “catch up” to the rest of the class.

“MIND Research Institute pursues advances in learning not just for students and teachers, but also for ourselves as an organization, so we’re looking forward to what these powerful data mining techniques can tell us about how to improve our ST Math program,” said Andrew R. Coulson, Chief Strategist and Vice President for Data and Evaluation at MIND, which is collaborating with the researchers. “Of course, we’d also like to see a more rigorous yet generalizable approach to evaluating digital education tools that are used in schools, so we hope this study opens the door for more like it.”

Developed by neuroscientists, MIND’s ST Math instructional software program provides visual, computer-based math games designed to support deep understanding of math concepts. Students use ST Math on computers or tablets, with teacher facilitation, in a blended learning environment. In numerous analyses over the years, schools using ST Math have experienced two to three times the growth in math proficiency compared to similar schools not using the program.

The grant is part of the NSF Promoting Research and Innovation in Methodologies for Evaluation (PRIME) program.

Material from a press release was used in this report.

About the Author:

Laura Ascione

Laura Ascione is the Managing Editor, Content Services at eSchool Media. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland's prestigious Philip Merrill College of Journalism. When she isn't wrangling her two children, Laura enjoys running, photography, home improvement, and rooting for the Terps. Find Laura on Twitter: @eSN_Laura