If I were to ask you which teaching strategy works better for mathematics in the classroom, direct instruction (teaching), or computer base instruction what would you say? That is such an important question today because school districts are dumping millions of dollars into computer based instruction in mathematics and other areas of the curriculum. So I decided to do a little research of my own on ERIC. To my surprise the first article I read was about a study done in a middle school in Minnesota. They were using ALEKS (Assessment and Learning in Knowledge Spaces), a technology-based mathematics curriculum and was piloted in the 2012-2013 school year. Two groups were compared: regular classrooms where direct instruction was the mode of delivery of the math lessons, and classrooms where the delivery of math instruction was through the computer based ALEKS program. The comparison of test scores on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA-III) was made at the end of the year and an additional district developed test based on mathematical concepts. Surprisingly, the findings showed grades six and eight student achievement was significantly higher from the direct instruction group when comparing test results on the district developed concept tests. On the other hand, seventh grade students in the direct instruction group achievement was significantly higher on the official MCA-III. So it turned out to be a mixed bag.
So I went to another study “Unpacking TPACK in Mathematics Education Research: A Systematic Review of Meta-Analyses” published in 2016 by Jamaal Young. He examined 65 initial studies that compared computer based technology in mathematics education. He narrowed it down to 13 that met the criteria he needed to do the study and found that of the mean effect size (growth) in mathematical achievement was from small to medium.
So in summary, computer based technology is definitely having a positive effect in mathematics instruction, but the significance is not huge at this point. We need to consider that there are many programs out there at this point and some are better than others. If we want to see these programs improve, we would be wise to give feedback to the companies that make them and suggest improvements as we see them. We also learned that direct instruction is still very powerful in teaching mathematic concepts and we should not altogether abandon that approach. Personally, I see the need for both. Some concepts will be better taught and reviewed with computers, and other topics with direct instruction. You be the judge!
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Mertes, Emily Sue, “A Mathematics Education Comparative Analysis of ALEKS Technology and Direct Classroom Instruction”, ProQuest LLC, Ed.D. Dissertation, Bethel University
Young, Jamaal Rashad, “Unpacking TPACK in Mathematics Education Research: A Systematic Review of Meta-Analyses”, International Journal of Educational Methodology, v2 n1 p19-29 2016