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Do math drills help children learn?

Math anxiety is difficult to measure, and even children who enjoy the practice at times may experience a higher heart rate, which is an aspect of anxiety, as they run through a sheet of sums. Let’s run It’s not easy to separate the productive adrenaline rush from the harmful anxiety. Also complicated is untangling whether timed tests are making matters worse for children who already have math anxiety for other reasons. there is evidence for and against Even within studies.

Ideally, you would need to design a multi-year study — where some kids were randomly assigned speed drills and others not, but all were taught the same way — and see if high schoolers What was their level of math achievement and math anxiety at the end. That study doesn’t exist.

What exists is dozens, maybe hundreds, of studies documenting stories of people who tell how much they hated timed tests. excerpts from this interview 1999 study College students who were training to become math teachers are typical:

“If I’m timed, I panic and forget everything. I do what I know, but then I get stressed that I’m not thinking fast enough and forget.” . I worry about finishing, and I can’t remember even when I know it. It’s so scary. I get nervous just thinking about it.

Others explained how they decided they were not a “maths person” during pressured moments of time and lost interest in the subject.

First-person testimonials are enough evidence for some that timed tests are harmful. For others, such subjective reflections, no matter how many and how emotionally compelling, still lack scientific evidence. Also, we do not have compelling scientific evidence to prove that timed tests are not harming children. I guess it remains unknown.

quotes conflict

Many math education experts question the Science of Math group’s scientific evidence on its second claim, that “timed strategies improve math performance.” One critic, Rachel Lambert, an associate professor of both special education and mathematics education at the University of California Santa Barbara, analyzed the group’s quotes about timed tests as an assignment on how to analyze education research. He showed me a spreadsheet of examples where the citations didn’t support his claims. In some cases, studies contradicted his claims and found that students performed worse under timed conditions. “They’re calling themselves the science of mathematics,” Lambert said. “But they are not careful with their quotes.”

I also found many of the quotes confusing. Corey Peltier, an assistant professor of special education at the University of Oklahoma and one of the founders of the Science of Mathematics group, explained that the primary purpose of the webpage and article was to dispel the myth that timed testing and other timed activities lead to. Worry “We weren’t writing about how time affects math performance,” he said via email. “Rather we were writing about whether time causes math anxiety.”

Misleading quote or not, the more pressing question for math teachers and parents is whether there is evidence in favor of timed tests. The US Department of Education seems to side with the People’s Science of Mathematics and against the National Council of Educators of Mathematics. A 2021 guide for teachers on how to help elementary school students who struggle with maths Recommends regular timed activities – not necessarily tests – to help children become fluent with addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. The What Works Clearinghouse, a unit of the Department of Education that examines research, and an expert panel found 27 studies for timed exercise and called it a “strong” level of evidence.

sports vs stopwatch

These 27 studies show that timed activities – not in isolation, but in combination with larger interventions – help children learn maths. one in 2013 StudyThe struggling first graders received math tutoring three times a week and were divided into two groups. One played random games to reinforce the lesson. The second was subjected to a speed exercise, where children worked in groups to try to answer as many math flashcards correctly as possible within 60 seconds. Each time he was encouraged to “meet or beat” his previous score. After 16 weeks, the math achievement of the children in the speed exercise group was significantly higher than that of the children who played the untimed games.

The researchers found that children in the speed group answered more math facts correctly each day. According to Lynn Fuchs, who led the study, the sheer volume of correct responses helped the children commit more math facts to long-term memory. Spaced retrieval practice, cognitive scientists say, is a proven way to build long-term memories, and children in the speed group benefited more from it.

“This gives children an advantage as they progress through the math curriculum,” said Fuchs, professor of education at Vanderbilt University. “Many children will develop fluency on their own without any fluency-building exercises. But to say we can’t do this in classrooms is to deny the opportunity for a significant portion of children to develop fluency.”

Fuchs and other advocates question why timed practice is so controversial in mathematics when it is common in other fields. Musicians repeat scales to the rapid tick of a metronome and athletes do motion drills to build muscle memory. “In all walks of life, the strongest musicians, the most accomplished athletes, they practice and practice, drill and practice,” Fuchs said.

Opponents of timed tests also want children to automatically learn that seven times eight is 56 (7+7+7+7+7+7+7+7), rather than having to think conceptually each time. There are sports and other less stressful ways to do it. Fuchs’ study is one of the few studies that directly tested timed versus untimed conditions and we need more studies to replicate their findings before we can conclude that speed is important for children. Much more effective and harmless.

Both sides of this debate are related to working memory, the ability to temporarily hold information in your head in order to process, think, and solve it. One side worries that timed tests can create so much anxiety that it overwhelms working memory and prevents the child from learning. The other side seeks to free up working memory to handle more complex math problems by automating basic arithmetic calculations, and believes that the most effective path to automatism is through speed practice. While the causes of math anxiety are debatable and mysterious, many in the pro-drill camp suspect that children may feel less anxious about math if they become more proficient in the subject, which is something that Completing the exercise can help.

advice for math teachers

What can classroom teachers learn from this debate? I turned to a seasoned researcher, Art Barudi, professor emeritus at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who spent his career studying the best ways to teach counting, number and arithmetic concepts to young children.

He agrees that timed tests can be used effectively, but he is skeptical about the widespread recommendation that teachers use them. “The time trial is an educational tool and like any tool can be used to good, no, or bad effect,” he said. “Unfortunately, the tool is often misused with poor or disastrous results. I have seen how much timed tests can hurt some children.”

Baroody feels it is important that children first conceptually understand what addition and subtraction mean and develop number sense before they are given timed tests. Mathematical operations are often taught to students through rote memorization, such as random numbers, and arithmetic learned in this way is easily forgotten, no matter how much it is drilled into them.

But once a child understands math, he or she may find that timely worksheets are beneficial. Barudi said that if he is teaching an elementary school class, he will administer timed tests at least once a week, and more often depending on the subject matter and how much the children have learned.

Fuchs is even more circumspect in his advice to teachers on how to use timed tests effectively without harming children in the process. Not only should students have mastered the concepts before, but they should have already demonstrated that they know the correct answers in an ad hoc setting. “You don’t want to give students a page full of problems and they’re kind of lost,” Fuchs said.

Immediate response is also important. “When you make an error, your teacher or your partner may say, ‘Hey, let’s fix that,'” Fuchs said. “You want to stop a student when they make an error because what you’re trying to do is practice correct responses. You don’t want students practicing incorrect responses.”

Advocates of timed practice disagree about the details. Some say that students should be given long lists of calculations so that no one finishes in time and slams their pencils down, making slow kids feel bad about themselves. However, Fuchs favors flashcards because she fears that seeing a long list of problems overwhelms some children. This is an area in which more research is needed to guide teachers on best practices.

The Science of Math group agrees that not all timed practice is good, and adds that research shows that timed activities or tests should not begin until a child can calculate correctly. They also say that teachers should never count these tests toward students’ grades; Trials should be low-stakes exercises.

“Like any instructional activity, if used inappropriately, it will provide minimal benefit and in some cases may be harmful,” Peltier said. Giving students “time on a skill they don’t know – it’s not only a waste of time, it can be demoralizing and even harmful.” Imagine the time it took to parallel park a car at age 16 Do it!

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