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Maths challenges add up to success

When Linwood College introduced Mathletics, the goal was to achieve maths fluency among students. Eight years on, it reports grades are improving faster than national standards, as Lee Suckling discovers.

In 2005 and 2006, alongside the Wayne Francis Charitable Trust, Christchurch’s Linwood College developed the LANE (Literacy and Numeracy Empowerment) Project. It was an initiative to scope issues surrounding youth literacy and numeracy competency, and to investigate strategies to tackle them.

Mathematics teacher Alan Parris was part of a group of teachers to decide Mathletics was the ideal tool to enhance the numeracy component of the LANE Project.

“The goal of this project was for every person under the age of 21 in educational training to be able to read, write, and do sums,” he said. “The sums part became my job.”

The individualised learning pathway and competitive fluency exercises were two of the key driving forces behind Linwood’s choice of Mathletics.

“The competition element is definitely what gets kids excited, but it’s not the biggest part of Mathletics. The curriculum side is split into topics and sub-topics, and contains exercises, PowerPoints, conceptual videos, and everything kids need to learn at their own pace.”

Mathematical fluency

Mathletics was introduced into Linwood College in 2007 with a goal of mathematical fluency amongst pupils. It was targeted at Years 7 to 10.

“In the numeracy part of the LANE Project, it was discovered the main barrier to learning was knowing times tables. If you can’t multiply, you’re wasting time with everything else in mathematics. Multiplication fluency, thus, is the first goal Mathletics students need to obtain before moving on to more complicated parts of the New Zealand curriculum and the programme.”

Using the advanced reporting tools, and ability grouping within Mathletics, Linwood teachers were able to identify when a student required more time with the basics before moving on.  Whilst at the same time, students that had previously mastered the basics where able to continue on with Mathletics courses more suited to their ability level.

The 24/7 capabilities of Mathletics and its easy to access step-by-step guides are a large contributor to mathematical fluency, Parris says.

“They can do it at home, they can do it at grandma’s. The curriculum work is set out in strands and topics, and as a teaching programme kids can use it at the best speed for them. If they are having trouble, they can click the question mark icon and get help.”

Teachers are also able to set homework from Mathletics.

“We don’t do take-home books for Years 7 to 10, and I can see when they log in, log out, and how much time they spend on each area,” explained Parris. “Parents can also monitor this, too. It’s a good motivator to get homework done at home. Pupils who do Mathletics improve their grades faster than the national standard grades,”

Competition and challenge

As for the competition aspect, it’s proved to be a key motivated to keep students learning with Mathletics.

“You can compete in a challenge with kids from schools all over the world,” said Parris. “When kids get to compete, they want to be the best. When you’re in a competition, there’s a worm that moves up or down against your competitor, so you can see who is in the lead. They have to speed up their ability for addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

“If I was to say, ‘Okay, we’re going to do 400 multiplication problems today’, pupils would groan. But if they’re challenging others, they might solve 500 problems and have a good time doing it. This is colourful, interactive, 21st Century learning.

“When they do the online tests, kids earn credits when they improve their performance, and we’ll print out certificates when they reach certain goals,” he added. “We print off and present their certificates to them, and seeing their chests puff up with pride is great. For a lot of them, it’ll be the first certificate they’ve ever been given.”

Achieving improved grades

Since starting, Linwood College has noticed, “Pupils who do Mathletics improve their grades faster than the national standard grades,” confirmed Parris. Linwood’s seen an increase in results across all ability levels, but particularly from the less-mathematically able pupils. It’s that increase in achievement from the easily disillusioned students, particularly in regards to the LANE project, which Parris sees as Mathletics’ greatest success.

The improvement seen at Linwood College has been echoed in a recent Numeracy Study conducted in Australia. The NAPLAN-based study of 8,000 schools identified a possible nine per cent advantage for schools that use Mathletics for at least 30 minutes a week. When asked about this, Parris simply replied: “Our increase is definitely bigger than that!”  

LEE SUCKLING WRITES FOR INTERFACE MAGAZINE.


MORE ON MATHLETICS

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