Students need to be 'switched on' to maths, say researchers

Apr 23, 2012

(Phys.org) -- The precarious decline in children's participation in mathematics can only be reversed by tackling a complex mix of factors, including positive and negative attitudes of a student's parents, peers and teachers, new research has found.

The study, published in the International , is the first to reveal that 'switching off' and 'switching on' to maths needs to be addressed in different ways.

"A two-pronged approach is essential. Not only is it crucial to stop students disengaging, but it is also necessary to take deliberate actions to 'kick start' their engagement in mathematics," chief investigator Associate Professor Janette Bobis said.

The study was prompted by ongoing concerns about school and post-school participation in mathematics. In 2010, a panel of the nation's top mathematicians described maths participation as being at 'dangerously low levels'.

"'Switching off' from mathematics is a significant factor in the declining trend in the mathematical performance of children in Years 6 to 8," said Associate Professor Bobis. "Previously, experts have just focused on either switching off or switching on, or have assumed both are the same."

Along with co-researchers Professor Andrew Martin, Associate Professor Judy Anderson and Dr Jenni Way, Associate Professor Bobis investigated the motivations and behavior of 1601 students in Years 6 to 8 from 200 classrooms in 44 Australian schools.

At home, parents' interests in mathematics and in helping their children with mathematics were major factors affecting middle year students' engagement and disengagement.

According to Associate Professor Bobis: "Parents can have a really positive role to play - including stressing to mathematics and building up their child's self belief.

"But almost all major contexts in a student's life were found to affect their engagement and disengagement: home, school, class. Other factors relate to a student's personal attributes, such as their confidence to do mathematics, the value they placed on the subject, their enjoyment level and, in the case of switching off mathematics, their anxiety level."

In the classroom, overall classroom climate was a major influencing factor that impacted strongly on individual students.

"If a school is going to do something to improve mathematics competencies they need to come from two or three angles to enhance the children's self-belief and promote their positive engagement with mathematics. But they also need to develop strategies to reduce the to maths, such as anxiety and negative parental attitudes to maths."

Because various contexts impact in distinct ways, parents, teachers and the students themselves have unique roles and responsibilities in terms of increasing engagement in mathematics and addressing disengagement.

While the study involved Australian students, the implications have enormous international significance for reducing student disengagement in mathematics and promoting more positive intentions for students' involvement in mathematics at school and beyond.

The study is part of an innovative ARC Linkage research project and ongoing partnership between the Faculty of Education and Social Work and the Catholic Education Office, Sydney.

Switching On and Switching Off in : An Ecological Study of Future Intent and Disengagement Among Middle School was published in Issue 1, 2012 of the International Journal of Educational Psychology.

Explore further: Newlyweds, be careful what you wish for

Provided by University of Sydney

3.5 /5 (2 votes)

Related Stories

Parental influence on child's science-career decision

Feb 21, 2010

Parental influence and access to mathematics courses are likely to guide students to careers in science, technology, engineering, mathematics or medicine (STEMM), according to research from Michigan State University.

Putting the magic into maths

Feb 13, 2012

Queen Mary, University of London has developed a new educational resource for teachers to help students use amazing magic tricks to learn about maths.

Recommended for you

Newlyweds, be careful what you wish for

12 hours ago

A statistical analysis of the gift "fulfillments" at several hundred online wedding gift registries suggests that wedding guests are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to buying an appropriate gift for the ...

Can new understanding avert tragedy?

15 hours ago

As a boy growing up in Syracuse, NY, Sol Hsiang ran an experiment for a school project testing whether plants grow better sprinkled with water vs orange juice. Today, 20 years later, he applies complex statistical ...

Creative activities outside work can improve job performance

Apr 16, 2014

Employees who pursue creative activities outside of work may find that these activities boost their performance on the job, according to a new study by San Francisco State University organizational psychologist Kevin Eschleman ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Newlyweds, be careful what you wish for

A statistical analysis of the gift "fulfillments" at several hundred online wedding gift registries suggests that wedding guests are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to buying an appropriate gift for the ...

Can new understanding avert tragedy?

As a boy growing up in Syracuse, NY, Sol Hsiang ran an experiment for a school project testing whether plants grow better sprinkled with water vs orange juice. Today, 20 years later, he applies complex statistical ...

Roman dig 'transforms understanding' of ancient port

(Phys.org) —Researchers from the universities of Cambridge and Southampton have discovered a new section of the boundary wall of the ancient Roman port of Ostia, proving the city was much larger than previously ...

Crowd-sourcing Britain's Bronze Age

A new joint project by the British Museum and the UCL Institute of Archaeology is seeking online contributions from members of the public to enhance a major British Bronze Age archive and artefact collection.

Hackathon team's GoogolPlex gives Siri extra powers

(Phys.org) —Four freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania have taken Apple's personal assistant Siri to behave as a graduate-level executive assistant which, when asked, is capable of adjusting the temperature ...

Better thermal-imaging lens from waste sulfur

Sulfur left over from refining fossil fuels can be transformed into cheap, lightweight, plastic lenses for infrared devices, including night-vision goggles, a University of Arizona-led international team ...