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Tech teaching methods aid students' math skills, study shows

Jennifer O'Brien | June 27, 2017
Research unlocks new opportunity for Australia’s burgeoning STEM skill problem

students in STEM

Technology-enabled teaching methods can improve students’ mathematics skills over a three-week period, equivalent to the level typically achieved in one year.

That’s one of the “astonishing” findings of the joint research project undertaken by the University of Canberra’s (UC) STEM Education Research Centre (SERC) and Samsung Electronics Australia, according to UC centenary professor and director of SERC, Thomas Lowrie, who spearheaded the project.

“What astonished us was that the children’s mathematics performance went up more than 20 per cent over a six hour program. . . Some people would say that is like a year of schooling,” Lowrie told CIO Australia.

UC and Samsung recently teamed up for a three-week STEM study program that examined primary and secondary students. But Lowrie, for his part, has been leading ‘spatial reasoning’ research programs - including a ten-week study - for several years.

“What we have found in the last two years is that if we improve the children's spatial reasoning skills, even without teaching them mathematics, their mathematics goes up.

“We have been working with classroom teachers, with the programs we’ve developed, and we’ve had incredibly strong performance increases with the children's mathematics, even when mathematics is not being taught over that intervention period.”

Discussing the latest three-week program, Lowrie urged industry players to take note of the “novel” findings, which will help unlock new opportunities for Australia's burgeoning STEM skill problem. 

“One of the really important things to consider is the extent to which we have to stop worrying about STEM in the separated discipline areas. We shouldn’t be just thinking about science or technology or engineering or mathematics as disciplines on their own.

“Into the future, people will need to be multitasking and will need to have flexible ways of thinking where a whole range of those skills could be used simultaneously, or in fact, with a particular emphasis at different times. The problems are going to become more wicked and challenging, and people need to be able to move from one job, even within the same company, within a five-year period because of the rate of change that tends to happen today,” he said.

“We are very strongly advocating for not worrying about the disciple content, as much as worrying about the actual practices that take place in STEM.”

With that in mind, he said the latest research investigated ‘practical methods’ for increasing mathematics education results in primary students and the development of student-led STEM inquiry projects at high school.

“These spatial skills are really important for STEM learning. In fact, the greatest predictor of a person going into a STEM profession once they leave school is how good their spatial reasoning skills are. The higher their spatial reasoning skills, the more likely they will go into a STEM profession.” he said.


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