New math software targets ‘perceptual learning’

Students working through the modules can see their progress on a “mastery indicator,” a bar at the bottom of the screen that shows the students’ advancement to increasingly difficult levels. The concept, borrowed from video games, helps students “feel that they’re closing in on mastering the whole thing,” Massey said.

With today’s emphasis on standardized testing, students today are used to “teach-test” learning, and it can take some time for them to “get used to this kind of learning where they constantly try and get feedback,” she said.

Wise agreed that students have mixed reactions to the modules’ setup, which drops off categories of questions once students demonstrate mastery and instead drills students on question types that they make mistakes in.

Students who prefer being told what to do—often the students who do best in traditional classrooms—tend to find the new format frustrating. In contrast, students who worry less about being right love “constantly being on that edge where you’re being challenged,” he said.

Wise said the Insight modules take education in what he considers a new, better direction: The exercises shift emphasis from “what’s the answer?” to “how do you solve this problem?” so that building thinking and problem-solving skills becomes more important than getting the right answer.

Once students become accustomed to learning this way, the durability is astounding, Massey said.

In research studies asking students to revisit the modules’ material four to five months later, after summer vacation and the change to a new teacher, students “have been just as good on the delayed post-test as on the test right after the module,” she said. “It sticks with them.”


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