Recent studies from two different continents point to the value of education technology in helping students grasp important yet abstract math concepts—and in both studies, animations that allow students to visualize these concepts were central to the results.
In one research project, the use of interactive whiteboards to teach math in several schools in Great Britain was found to have a positive effect on student learning, according to a three-year study conducted by researchers at Lancaster University.
In the other project, software that takes a visual approach to teaching math contributed to double-digit gains in the test scores of several Orange County, Calif., elementary students.
Technology helps bring math alive
The U.K. study explored how the introduction of RM MathsAlive into mathematics classrooms would affect teaching and learning. The Maestro Project launched in 2003 with the participation of 27 schools, and it followed the progress of students and teachers from year seven to year nine.
MathsAlive offers a wide range of resources for using interactive whiteboards to teach math topics, including resources created to meet each of the specific objectives in Britain’s Secondary National Strategy framework for math instruction.
At the end of year nine, more than 80 percent of the 426 students surveyed said they believed they could learn new things in mathematics more easily than at the start of year seven, with 71 percent of students reporting that they thought it was easier to remember things when they used the interactive whiteboard.
“The results from a student questionnaire … suggest that, in many cases, the use of the resources was having a positive impact on student enjoyment, motivation towards learning, and perceptions about mathematics,” the report says.
Elizabeth Bates, head of mathematics at the Deanery High School in England, said using MathsAlive resources along with interactive whiteboards in math classrooms has had a positive impact on student achievement.
“The students have better and sounder knowledge of the concepts of mathematics. The animations are so powerful; bisecting an angle becomes a really visual experience,” Bates said.
The report found that students often referred to the roles of visual imagery, animations, and videos in helping them understand key concepts.
“Moving imagery was clearly a key means for [students] to ‘see what is meant,’ rather than their trying to ‘imagine what is meant’ when it is just described by teachers,” the report found.
Students weren’t the only ones affected by using the whiteboard technology; many teachers reported that their approach to instruction shifted as well.
“Some reported that the focus of the lesson had changed, moving away from them as the teacher, towards the resources they were using. Some teachers felt the [MathsAlive] resources enabled a more collaborative environment to emerge, where they were working with students to construct problems and devise methods to solve them,” the study found.