SRI International Research Validates Effective Math Education Approach for Teaching Complex Concepts to Middle School Students

Mar 08, 2011, 13:21 ET from SRI International

MENLO PARK, Calif., March 8, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- SRI International, an independent nonprofit research and development organization, announced the results of two randomized studies evaluating the effectiveness of the SimCalc program, a technology-based approach to teaching advanced math concepts. SimCalc integrates software, paper curriculum, and professional development to enable a broad range of students to learn advanced concepts without jeopardizing progress on basic math skills.

This teaching approach was designed with the goal of “democratizing access to the mathematics of change and variation,” concepts needed for algebra and calculus success. SRI’s research findings, which appear in the December 2010 edition of the American Educational Research Journal, found the program to be an effective teaching strategy across all student and teacher groups.

“Given the critical importance of mathematics understanding for students’ academic success and future interest in science, engineering, or technology careers, improvements in math education are clearly needed in much of the United States,” said Jeremy Roschelle, Ph.D., director of the Center for Technology in Learning at SRI International. “Middle school is an especially critical period, when concepts become increasingly difficult and more abstract. Unfortunately, that is the time when many students fall behind in their math understanding.”

SRI’s SimCalc studies were the first randomized experiments to explore the use of technology in a representational approach to math education, where computers support visualization and interaction with mathematical objects, and graphs are often integrated with narrative texts. For example, SimCalc MathWorlds software provides animations of motions that students control by building and editing mathematical functions that can be displayed in algebraic, graphical, or tabular form. SimCalc program developers view student use of software and curriculum, and students' interactions with the teacher and other students as complementary activities that are important to future learning

The SimCalc approach was evaluated in more than 100 schools and without any researcher participation in the classroom. Two large-scale randomized experiments were conducted, one focusing on 7th grade teachers and students and the other on 8th grade. In both studies, students of teachers using SimCalc substantially outperformed students in control groups. The positive results were similar across gender, ethnic groups, and geography.

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under grant number 0437861.

About SRI International's Education Research

SRI International conducts education research in three main areas: education reform, education policy, and the application of technology to improve education. Our researchers study reforms that hold promise for improving the K-16 system of schooling and lifelong learning and evaluate the design, implementation and impact of educational programs, especially those targeted at disadvantaged students. We also undertake projects to examine the design, implementation and impact of policies, programs and practices in the areas of early childhood, special education, school partnerships, and community services and strategies. One of our missions is to improve teaching and learning by conducting research on the innovative design, use and assessment of interactive learning environments. A particular focus is helping educational technology firms improve their products by providing research insights and strengthening educational designs.

About SRI International

Silicon Valley-based SRI International, a nonprofit research and development organization, performs sponsored R&D for governments, businesses, and foundations. SRI brings its innovations to the marketplace through technology licensing, new products, and spin-off ventures. Commemorating its 65th anniversary in 2011, SRI is known for world-changing innovations in computing, health and pharmaceuticals, chemistry and materials, sensing, energy, education, national defense, and more.

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