Best Way to Improve Student Math Scores? Change Teachers’ Attitudes, Study Says

By EdSource | Daily News (Los Angeles, CA), July 31, 2018 | Go to article overview

Best Way to Improve Student Math Scores? Change Teachers’ Attitudes, Study Says


EdSource, Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)


Elementary teachers who changed their perceptions about math — such as who’s good at it and why it’s useful — saw their students’ math scores rise significantly, according to a new study by a Stanford University education researcher.

The study, published in the journal Education Sciences, showed that student scores improved after teachers took an online course explaining how anyone can be good at math, math is fun and useful, and can be taught in a more positive, engaging way.

“Many elementary teachers are math-traumatized. It’s amazing how many of them were given terrible ideas about maths as children,” said Jo Boaler, co-author of the study and a professor of mathematics education at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education. Boaler, who’s British, uses the British term “maths” instead of the American “math.”

Boaler and her fellow researchers recruited 40 5th-grade teachers from the Central Valley to take a 12-hour online math course she and her team created. The course, “How to Learn Math for Teachers,” covers perceptions about math, how anyone — with enough practice — can develop the brain skills to understand complex math problems, and how math is used in everyday life. The course also covers basic math concepts, such as number patterns and reasoning, and offers tips for teaching those concepts.

Boaler and her team also met in person with the teachers and followed up with surveys and interviews after the course ended.

A few months after teachers completed the course, their students’ math scores were 8 points higher on the Smarter Balanced standardized state test, compared to a control group of comparable students. Girls, English learners and low-income students did especially well, according to the report.

The key, Boaler said, was changing the teachers’ own ideas about math.

“Many grew up with the message, ‘You’re not a maths person. …

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