A study published in the AERA Open has found that a web-based mathematics homework intervention known as ASSISTments made a positive impact on the maths achievement of students at the end of the school year.
The study was conducted by Jeremy Roschelle and his colleagues. It was a randomized controlled trial comprising 2,850 Grade 7 maths students across 43 schools in Maine, and it has provided laptops to every student in Grade 7 since 2002. Schools involved in the intervention along with control groups were matched as per demographics and socioeconomic status. Immediate feedbacks were provided to students involved in the ASSISTments intervention as they worked on their homework along with appropriate opportunity to work on supplementary problems sets to struggling students. The study enabled formative assessment practices for teachers, like adapting their discussions of homework to fit the needs of students.
It is observed that in schools where teachers and students used the intervention, students achieved higher standardized maths test scores (effect size= 0.18) compared with control schools’ students. It was also observed that students with low prior maths achievement, in particular, benefited the most.
2,850 Grade 7 mathematics students in a randomized field trial were evaluated whether an educational technology intervention increased mathematics learning.
Assigning homework is a common yet controversial debate. Jeremy Roschelle and his colleagues predicted that incorporating an online homework tool with teacher training could increase learning, on prior research conducted on formative assessment and adaptive teaching.
To test his prediction, the team analyzed the data from 43 schools that participated, and later, it was found that the intervention has the potential for wider adoption.
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For most middle school students and teachers in the U.S., maths homework is a regular practice. Generally, a teacher provides homework during class, and every student later completes it. Teachers review the assigned homework the next day in a full-class discussion. Students spend a considerable amount of time each week completing their maths assignments and reviewing them in class. The intervention was done to know whether the impact of homework on learning might be increased, given the stable school practice around homework along with the meaningful impact of instructional time allocated for its completion.
The purpose of assigning maths homework is typically to provide practice for the students. Various Literature reviews and meta-analyses show generally positive or neutral effects for homework on learning (Cooper, Robinson, & Patall, 2006; Maltese, Robert, & Fab, 2012). Positive effects due to homework can be observed in middle and high school than elementary school and particularly for maths, which requires a substantial practice of individuals. Despite parents and teachers understanding the significance of practicing mathematics, they sometimes disagree about the value of the policies of homework. Indeed, various popular media and books recurrently cover this popular debate among schools and parents. One prominent issue remains after all the school homework policies and that is, that students may not get timely feedback of the needed help as they practice. Public discourse raises questions about whether homework increases learning, what type of homework is more effective, and how it may affect the well-being of students.
Jeremy Roschelle and his team hypothesized that homework could be improved from the research insights on formative assessment and related strategies. Formative assessment comprises using data from the independent work of students to provide them helpful feedback along with guidance while enabling the teacher to use the data to adjust instruction to meet the learning needs of students. Formative assessment’s frequent use can improve achievement, particularly when the results are used to adjust instruction. It is observed that timely, none evaluative, supportive, specific feedback and guidance are profitable to students. Furthermore, timely feedback is better than no feedback at all for students, and conflicting results suggested that immediate feedback or slightly delayed feedback maybe even better.
ASSISTments is closely related to the Cognitive Tutor program of research, which has used immediate feedback successfully for an advanced maths problem solving for decades. An extensive literature review suggested that immediate feedback may be more beneficial to students for procedural tasks. The homework tasks provided in this study was more procedural.
Jeremy Roschelle and his team investigated what happened when teachers in Maine were newly trained to use ASSISTments and deployed it with all their students throughout a full year of Grade 7 maths instructions. The main research question was as follows:
The team investigated the aforementioned question through a randomized controlled experiment in which schools were assigned to either an intervention or a business-as-usual situation.
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The ASSISTments intervention was provided by the Worcester Polytechnic Institute- comprising the technology and closely related professional development- to teachers, students, and schools for this study.
The ASSISTments technology is a web-based platform made available to different schools free of cost. The name “ASSISTments” intent to convey that the technology provides students assistance while providing teachers with assessments of what students know and can do.
ASSISTments content comprises maths problems with answers and hints. These problems are bundles into problem sets that teachers assign to their students. As the students work online, the computer informs them about the correctness of a solution and offers appropriate guidance, if available for that query. Teachers receive immediate reports on the performances of students comprising information about common wrong answers.
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Two types of content were incorporated into the intervention for this study. One type is closely linked to existing textbook homework issues or to related homework issues that teachers write themselves. The second type of content was specifically designed for master-oriented skill practice and was called “skill builders”. Existing skill builders in ASSISTments cover over 300 topics in middle school mathematics. Teachers can check students at 1- and 2-week intervals for retention of demonstrated skills and abilities demonstrated on past problem sets, which links to the research-based instructional strategy of spaced practice. For both the aforementioned kinds of contents, teachers decided how much and what type of homework was assigned, and they were asked to do as per the existing school homework policy. The intervention also included the professional development of teachers to increase their readiness to use ASSISTments. The target practices included
An intervention like the aforementioned can also bring new personalized options to schools. Schools tend to have a uniform policy for homework for all students. ASSISTments and similar technology can aid maths teachers to assign some problems uniformly while personalizing some assignments so that particular students gain additional opportunities to learn. Although the thought of combining elements of uniformity and personalization seems promising, an empirical basis to recommend the exact procedures to optimize the mix of homework assignment remains a topic for further research.
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