Research shows how much mathematical skills matter

Posted on Tuesday, 5/9/2013 6:01 pm

When educators are selecting textbooks and software for students, they need to consider how beneficial these materials will be to the pupils they teach. Some instructors may assume that flashy visuals, such as colorful charts designed to grab kids' attention, are more engaging. However, the results of a recent study suggest that what students see has the potential to affect how much they actually learn.

Sometimes, simple works
In a recent study from The Ohio State University, the results of which appear in the "Journal of Educational Psychology," researchers set out to see how different types of textbook visuals either helped or hurt students' ability to learn. What the researchers found may surprise some educators.

"Graphs with pictures may be more visually appealing and engaging to children than those without pictures," said Jennifer Kaminski, the study's co-author and a research scientist at the university. "However, engagement in the task does not guarantee that children are focusing their attention on the information and procedures they need to learn. Instead, they may be focusing on superficial features."

It is important for educators to realize that every student is unique. Not all of them have the same ability to focus their attention, which can be a problem when a graph features multiple components.

For example, when study participants, who were in kindergarten, first and second grade, were shown graphs with pictures of objects, rather than just bars, they had more trouble interpreting the data displayed. In some cases, kids counted the number of objects, instead of getting an overall sense of values.

A total of 75 percent of first- and second-graders, as well as all of the kindergartners, who learned using graphs featuring solid bars alone performed well when tested on the information they were exposed to. Those who were shown graphs featuring different images did not do as well when their knowledge was assessed.

The results of this study show just how important it is for educators to provide their students with the right materials, or risk having them fall behind in school.

"When designing instructional material, we need to consider children's developing ability to focus their attention and make sure that the material helps them focus on the right things," said Kaminski. "Any unnecessary visual information may distract children from the very procedures we want them to learn."

Some students prefer visuals
While this study reveals that too much clutter on a graph could be misleading, it is important for teachers to remember that many students are still visual learners. For this reason, they should focus on finding classroom materials that can help them achieve their instructional goals, without confusing their pupils too much.

If educators are not sure which of their students are visual learners, they should know that these youths tend to enjoy reading, pay attention to details, doodle on paper and prefer to watch rather than talk, according to Education.com.

 

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