Our school is taking part in the Bastow Leading Mathematics program. The program required us to survey our students on their attitude to maths and what sorts of activities their maths teachers do in the classroom.
We surveyed 30 Year 9 students and 118 Year 8 students. Students were asked to rate activities or teaching methods on how effective they were at helping the student learn maths.
We analyzed the results by looking at students’ maths achievement as measured by NAPLAN. In this analysis, the Top Quartile is the highest achieving Maths students in our school based on NAPLAN numeracy achievement.
1= Not Helpful at all, 2= Sometimes Helpful, 3 = A bit helpful, 4= Really helpful, 5 = This always helps improve my maths.
For both high and low achieving students, the teacher explaining step by step how to do the maths is what students say helps them learn best. Explicit instruction is clearly a favorite of our students.
We also compared responses from high and low achieving students to see if there were statistically significant differences between what they thought helped them learn best in Maths. High achieving students differed significantly from low achieving students on only two items. High achievers rated “Working on my own” and “Completing exercises or practice problems from the textbook” significantly higher than low achieving students.
For high achievers, maths is a solitary pursuit. They also rated online quizzes more favorably than lower-achieving students. Low achievers don’t see the benefits of practice exercises. One could speculate that a vicious cycle of lack of success, leading to a feeling of frustration, leading to less desire to practice leading to lower achievement is probably at play here.
Gender differences were only significant in two variables. Girls were statistically significantly more positive about the helpfulness of “Completing Practice Exercises” and boys thought to watch a Video by another teacher was more useful than the girls did.
Boys watch a lot of YouTube compared to girls. The girls are probably doing practice problems from the textbook during this time.
Students do have a reasonably accurate picture of their maths ability.
1 = Well blow average. I really struggle with maths, 2 = Below average. I struggle, 3= I’m an average Maths student. 4=Above average. I’m pretty good at Maths. 5= Well above average. I’m good at Maths.
Correlation between self-rating and NAPLAN was 0.618
|Boys NAPLAN Mean||590.45|
|Girls NAPLAN Mean||563.68|
|P value 0.030175||Boys did perform statistically significantly better than girls.|
Boys also rated their achievement higher.
|Male Average||Female Average||Grand Average||T-Test Males vs Females|
|Rate your ability in maths. Be honest. How do you think you are going?||3.43||3.09||3.26||0.042||Sig different|
Student surveying is not an easy task. This question probably didn’t hit the mark. There was no difference in responses from high, med or low achievers and I got the scale around the wrong way. 1= Much better and 5 = Much worse. The mean was just on the better side of About the same.
|Top Quartile||Upper middle||Lower Middle||Bottom Quartile|
|Compared to Year 7 how do you think your understanding in maths has changed?||2.54||2.21||2.29||2.45|
The remaining questions on the survey were from the Bastow program. There were in this format.
They mainly focused on what teachers were doing with their classes.
Not in this class = 1, Sometimes = 2, Quite Often = 3 and Always in this class = 4.
With few exceptions, the classroom experience of high performing maths students is not significantly different from the experience of low performing students.
High performers displayed significantly higher self-efficacy. They knew what they needed to be working on and how to go about this. This is hardly an unexpected finding. Students who are better at maths know how to learn maths better. Who’d have thought?
High performers also report that they “Regularly explain their thinking.” much more frequently than low performers. There is an opportunity for maths teachers to get all students explaining their thinking more.
High performers also were better able to connect what they previously knew to what they were learning now. Prior knowledge matters. High achievers were also more likely than low achievers to “Have a go at whatever they were learning.”
The only question with a significant difference in responses by Gender was “I respect my Maths teacher.” Girls were significantly more respectful than boys.
So what do we make of all that?
For me, it reinforces what we already know; Practice matters. The students who do better at maths recognize that practicing problems is what helps.
The other finding is that the better the student is at maths, the more confident they are that they know what to do next. Success breeds success.
Getting students to explain their mathematical thinking is an obvious improvement opportunity for us.