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Can technological tools and interventions boost math achievement?

Technology has improved many aspects in our lives. Therefore it’s natural to wonder: Can technology be used to improve a student’s math skills and close achievement gaps?

Math educators endorse the use of technology

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics has made their position on the use of technology clear: “Technology is an essential tool for learning mathematics in the 21st century, and all schools must ensure that all their students have access to technology. Effective teachers maximize the potential of technology to develop students’ understanding, stimulate their interest, and increase their proficiency in mathematics. When technology is used strategically, it can provide access to mathematics for all students.”

Kathleen Heid, Distinguished Professor of Mathematics Education at Penn State College of Education, says that using technology can help students succeed in math. Rather than thinking about school mathematics as a list of procedures, she writes, “Our goal is to teach mathematics so that people see it as useful, and see it as something with which they can solve problems, and technology can help us to do that.”

What the research says

Let’s take a look at what some research says about technological interventions to boost math achievement:

  • Technology and Student Achievement—The Indelible Link, an International Society for Technology in Education Policy Brief, offers a wealth of information about technology use in the classroom. This report provides research findings including hard data research about improved mathematics performance linked to technology use in math classrooms in Iowa, Missouri, Michigan and Texas. The brief states, “Looking at the effect of technology in raising achievement in specific subject areas, of 11 studies published since 2000 assessing technology integration and mathematics achievement, seven showed strong positive effects on scores among elementary and secondary students.
  • While its research and findings cover the use of technology in the teaching and learning of other subjects in addition to mathematics, Project Red’s The Technology Factor, Nine Keys to Student Achievement and Cost-Effectiveness makes a powerful case for the ability of technology to positively impact overall achievement. Data indicated that the use of technology-based interventions for English-language learners, struggling readers, and students in special education were the top predictors of improved high-stakes-test scores, improved course completion, and reduced dropout-rate.
  • In the research study Improving Basic Math Skills Using Technology, teacher-researchers implemented technology over a 5-month period to re-teach a variety of basic math skills. Based on an analysis of the data, researchers found an increase in test scores from the pre-intervention test to the post-intervention test for the targeted students in fourth, fifth, sixth, and nine grades. The targeted fourth and fifth grade students improved their understanding of math skills, receiving a 70 percent or higher when compared to their pre-assessment scores.
  • A U.S. Department of Education research study, Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies, systematically searched the research literature from 1996 through July 2008. This report identified more than one-thousand empirical studies of online learning and found evidence for positive performance resulting from the use of technology to access learning opportunities.

The need for teacher preparation

  • Matthew Bogan, Sallie L. Harper, and Elizabeth Bifuh-Ambe, authors of Elementary pre-service mathematics teachers and technology: are they ready? note that, “…the idea of a highly qualified teacher has been a major focus for parents, administrators, and educators. A part of being a highly qualified teacher is being able to use technology effectively in the classroom. Technology plays a role in problem solving and problematic tasks, being a highly qualified teacher, and conceptual focus in the mathematics classroom.”
  • Using technology to boost math achievement is most effective when teachers are well prepared. Regina Mistretta, in Integrating Technology into the Mathematics Classroom, stresses that training teachers to integrate technology should be part of pre-service teacher training, as well as ongoing professional development. 

A look inside classrooms

  • In a recent Getting Smart article, How Digital Learning is Boosting Achievement recounts math (and other subject matter) learning successes. This report also links to blended learning resources and case studies describing how schools and teachers are blending online learning with face-to-face learning.
  • DreamBox Learning has case studies and white papers that show how schools and districts are boosting math achievement in classrooms around the country.  Whether schools are implementing blended learning models or not, these case studies highlight educators who are strategically using technology and advanced digital math curricula to differentiate for all students and improve student success.