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Investigating Teacher Perceptions and Use of Mathematics Apps in K-8 Classrooms

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The purpose of this study was to examine the influence of teacher-related factors (attitudes, demographics, lesson plan purpose, and strategies) on student learning performance with mathematics apps in elementary school classrooms. Eighteen teachers (8 male, 10 female) and 408 students from grades 4 to 8 participated in the study. Ten unique constructive-based mathematics apps were used from the Explore Learning collection focusing on fractions, decimals, percent, probability, equations, adding and subtraction integers and stem and leaf plots. Overall, student learning performance increased significantly, from 18 to 35% after using mathematics apps for 20 to 90 minutes. Ninety-five to 100% of teachers were satisfied with their app-based lessons and confident about using apps. Teachers were also very positive about the design, engagement and learning value of apps. Positive attitudes toward the learning (but not design or engagement) value of an app were significantly correlated with learning performance. Teacher age was not significantly correlated with student learning performance; however, gender was. Learning performance was significantly higher for students who had female teachers. Teachers used apps primarily to help students explore new concepts. Mathematics apps used for review or homework (but not for learning new concepts) were significantly associated with higher gains in student performance. Student gains in performance increased when teachers created their own learning materials as opposed to using pre-designed app materials. A teacher-led strategy (as opposed to using apps in pairs) resulted in significantly lower learning performance with mathematics apps. The practical implications of this research and future directions were discussed.
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INVESTIGATING TEACHER PERCEPTIONS AND USE OF
MATHEMATICS APPS IN K-8 CLASSROOMS
R. Kay
University of Ontario Institute of Technology (CANADA)
Abstract
The purpose of this study was to examine the influence of teacher-related factors (attitudes,
demographics, lesson plan purpose, and strategies) on student learning performance with
mathematics apps in elementary school classrooms. Eighteen teachers (8 male, 10 female) and 408
students from grades 4 to 8 participated in the study. Ten unique constructive-based mathematics
apps were used from the Explore Learning collection focusing on fractions, decimals, percent,
probability, equations, adding and subtraction integers and stem and leaf plots. Overall, student
learning performance increased significantly, from 18 to 35% after using mathematics apps for 20 to
90 minutes. Ninety-five to 100% of teachers were satisfied with their app-based lessons and confident
about using apps. Teachers were also very positive about the design, engagement and learning value
of apps. Positive attitudes toward the learning (but not design or engagement) value of an app were
significantly correlated with learning performance. Teacher age was not significantly correlated with
student learning performance; however, gender was. Learning performance was significantly higher
for students who had female teachers. Teachers used apps primarily to help students explore new
concepts. Mathematics apps used for review or homework (but not for learning new concepts) were
significantly associated with higher gains in student performance. Student gains in performance
increased when teachers created their own learning materials as opposed to using pre-designed app
materials. A teacher-led strategy (as opposed to using apps in pairs) resulted in significantly lower
learning performance with mathematics apps. The practical implications of this research and future
directions were discussed.
Keywords: Mobile apps, m-learning, e-learning, mathematics, elementary school, teacher, attitude,
learning performance.
1 INTRODUCTION
Considerable research has focused on student attitudes [1, 2, 3, 4] and learning performance [3, 4, 6,
7, 8, 9, 10, 11] regarding the use of mathematics apps in elementary school classrooms.
Comparatively few studies have examined K-8 teacher perspectives about integrating apps into their
classrooms [1,2]. Understanding teacher viewpoints, though, is critical for effective integration of
these tools [1, 2, 12]. The purpose of this study, then, was to examine how teachers prepare for and
use mathematics apps, their attitudes toward these apps, and specific factors (gender, experience,
teaching strategy) that might influence student learning performance.
Several previous studies have examined teacher attitudes toward the design, engagement, and
learning value of mathematics apps [1, 2, 13]. Two studies reported that Grade 7 and 8 teachers
agreed that the mathematics apps used were well designed [2, 13]. Three studies indicated that grade
4 to 8 teachers believed that mathematics apps were highly engaging, motivating and enjoyable for
students [1, 2 13]. Finally, three studies noted that teachers rated the learning value of mathematics
apps high [1, 2, 13]. More research is needed to confirm and expand on these results.
Almost no research has been conducted on teacher-related factors that might affect the impact of
mathematics app on student learning performance. However, a number of papers have reported
considerable variation in the way teachers integrate apps into their classrooms. Typical approaches
included teacher-led [1, 12], pair-based [1, 3, 14], and individual use of apps [6, 8, 9, 11]. To date, no
research has been conducted on which of these strategies might work best in terms of student
performance. Furthermore, no studies could be found regarding the impact of lesson planning and
purpose, teacher experience, age, attitudes and gender on learning performance.
The purpose of this study, then, is to examine teacher-related factors that might influence student
learning performance when using mathematics apps in elementary school classrooms
Proceedings of ICERI2018 Conference
12th-14th November 2018, Seville, Spain
ISBN: 978-84-09-05948-5
9388
2 METHODOLOGY
2.1 Participants
Eighteen teachers (8 males, 10 females) with 3 to 23 years of experience (M =9.9, SD = 7.0)
participated in the study. Five teachers were born between 1946 to 1964 (Baby Boomers) [15], 7
teachers between 1965 to 74 (Generation X) [15], and five teachers were born between 1977 and
1990 (Net Generation) [15]. These teachers used 10 unique mathematics apps to teach 408 (171
boys, 179 girls, 59=8 unspecified) students in grades 4 (n=30), 5 (n=54), 6 (n=43) 7 (n=189) and 8
(n=92).
2.2 Mathematics Apps Used
Ten constructive-based mathematics apps were selected from the Explore Learning Collection (at
www.explorelearning.com) and focused on fractions, decimals, percent, probability, equations, adding
and subtraction integers and stem and leaf plots. Links to the specific apps used and support
materials are available at tinyurl.com/WCE2018. All apps were designed to help students
systematically explore mathematical concepts. Each app came with a student exploration sheet to
guide student learning.
2.3 Data Collection
Teacher attitudes were examined using previous surveys designed by Kay & Knaack [2] and assessed
design (n=5 items), engagement (n=4 items) and learning (n=6 items). Internal reliability for the
teacher scale could not be reliably calculated due to the small sample size. Student learning
performance was measured using pre- and post-tests developed by the instructor or provided by the
app. The content of each question was rated based on four Bloom’s taxonomy levels (remembering,
understanding, application, and analysis) [16].
2.4 Procedure
All teachers participated in a half-day workshop concentrating on the selection, evaluation and use of
mathematics apps. All teachers (n=18) agreed that they were properly trained. The extra time
required to prepare for app lesson ranged from 0 to 30 minutes with an average of 9.9 minutes
(SD=12.5). Fifteen teachers asked students used the student exploration sheet provided by the app,
whereas 3 teachers created their own materials. In a typical lesson, a pre-test was given, students
used the assigned app with the student guide for 20 to 90 minutes (M=37.8, SD=16.), and finally, a
post-test was administered.
3 RESULTS
3.1 Lesson Plan Satisfaction
All teachers agreed or strongly agreed that they were satisfied with the mathematics apps lesson
(M=4.7 /5, SD=0.5) and confident about using apps in the classroom (M=4.8 /5, SD=0.4). Ninety-six
percent (n=17) of the teacher agreed or strongly agreed that they had enough time to complete the
app lesson (M=4.4 /5, SD=0.6). Finally, 83% (n=15) agreed or strongly agreed that the app support
materials were helpful (M=4.3 /5, SD=0.8).
It appears that pre-training workshops, well-organized and easy-to-use apps, and pre-designed
student guides were helpful in creating a positive teaching experience for elementary school teachers
in this study.
3.2 Student Learning
Significant differences between pre- and post-test scores were observed for remembering,
understanding, and analysis questions with effect sizes (Cohen’s d) from 0.50 to 1,23 indicating large,
meaningful differences (Cohen, 1988) (Table 1).
The use of constructive-based mathematics apps for 20 to 90 minutes had a significant impact on the
overall, short-term learning performance for grade 4 to 8 students.
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Table 1. Learning performance before and after using mathematics apps.
Learning Activity
% Change
Mean (SD)
t(df)
Effect Size
Remembering
27.8 (42.3)
6.56 (99) *
0.69
Understanding
18.1 (31.8)
5.91 (107) *
0.47
Application
18.1 (34.3)
6.94 (172) *
0.50
Analysis
34.5 (32.7)
10.33 (95) *
1.23
* p <.001
3.3 Teacher Attitudes
With respect to app design, elementary school teachers in this study agreed that the mathematics
apps were well-organized, easy to use, attractive, professionally designed and provided clear
instruction (Table 2).
Table 2. Elementary school teacher attitudes toward mathematics app design.
Mean (SD) 1
Disagree
Agree
4.3 (0.5)
0
18
4.1 (0.8)
1
16
3.5 (1.5)
4
10
3.9 (1.3)
2
14
4.7 (0.5)
0
18
1 Based on a 5-point Likert scale (Strongly Disagree to Strongly Agree)
Regarding engagement, teachers agreed that the mathematics apps were engaging, fun, interesting,
and helped students keep on tasks (Table 3).
Table 3. Elementary school teacher attitudes toward the engagement value of mathematics apps.
Factor
Mean (SD) 1
Disagree
Agree
Engaging.
4.6 (0.5)
0
18
Fun.
4.3 (0.6)
0
17
Interesting
4.3 (0.6)
0
17
Students on task
4.3 (0.6)
0
17
1 Based on a 5-point Likert scale (Strongly Disagree to Strongly Agree)
For learning value, teachers agreed that the mathematics apps helped students learn and understand
concepts better, provided useful visual supports and feedback, and enhanced learning (Table 4).
Table 4. Elementary school teacher attitudes toward the learning value of mathematics apps.
Factor
Mean (SD) 1
Disagree2
Agree3
Helped learning.
4.2 (0.5)
0
17
Useful graphics
4.3 (0.6)
0
17
Useful feedback
3.7 (1.0)
2
11
Understand concepts
4.0 (0.5)
0
16
Effective learning tool
4.7 (0.5)
0
18
Enhanced Learning
4.4 (0.5)
0
18
1 Based on a 5-point Likert scale (Strongly Disagree to Strongly Agree)
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Teacher attitudes toward the learning value of mathematics apps were significantly correlated with
change in student performance (r=0.16, p <.01). However, the magnitude of this correlation was small
indicating that other factors may be more important in influencing student outcomes after using apps.
Teacher attitudes towards the design (r=0.09, n.s.) and the engagement (r=0.10, n.s.) value of
mathematics app were not significantly correlated with gains in student learning performance.
3.4 Teacher Demographics
Teacher age or the generation in which they were born (Baby Boomer, Generation X, or Net
Generation) was not related to student learning performance after using mathematics apps. It is
conceivable that the training workshop, quality of the apps, and support materials helped equalize
potential age differences. This is partially supported by the high level of satisfaction that teachers had
with the app lessons. More research, perhaps in the form of an interview, is needed to support the
reliability of this result.
Students with male teachers (M= 19.5, SD = 25.3) showed significantly lower learning performance
gains than students with female teachers (M= 27.2, SD = 30.5) (t(267) = 2.2, p<.05). The sample size
was relatively small, so these results should be treated with caution. However, it might be worth
investigating in more depth what male teachers could be doing that would have a detrimental impact
on learning performance.
3.5 Purpose of Lesson
Ninety-four percent (n=7) of teachers in this used apps to explore new concepts, 28% (n=5) used
them in homework activities, and 17% (n=3) used them to help review concepts previously learned.
There was no significant difference in learning gains between students who used mathematics apps to
explore new concepts (M=24.7, SD= 28.9) and students who did not use apps for this purpose
(M=24.7, SD= 28.9) (t(267)=1.05), n.s.).
Students who were asked to use mathematics apps for homework activities (M=21.7, SD= 31.1)
showed significantly higher gains in learning performance than students who were not asked to use
apps for this purpose (M=21.8, SD= 29.9) (t(267)=2.4), p <.05).
Students who used mathematics apps for review of concepts (M=36.0, SD= 27.0) showed significantly
higher gains in learning performance than students who did not use apps for this purpose (M=23.0,
SD= 28.9) (t(267)=2.3), p <.05).
It is possible that apps used to explore mathematics concepts might be challenging for younger
students. More detailed research is needed, perhaps in the form of observational data, to better
understand why elementary school students might not benefit from constructive-based apps when
they are used to learn new concepts.
3.6 Teaching Strategies
Students following guides created by teachers (M=39.6, SD=23.0) performed significantly better than
students who followed the pre-designed app guide (M=20.7, SD= 20.0) (t(267)=4.4), p <.001). It is not
clear why personalized guides were more effective than standardized app guides, but perhaps teacher
knowledge of their students is important for integrating a mathematical app into the curriculum. It is
also conceivable that teachers had a better understanding of the pedagogy required for their students.
There was no difference in learning performance gains between teachers who integrated the use of
mathematics apps in student pairs (M=24.4, SD=25.7) and teacher who did not use this strategy
(M=24.3, SD=33.2). However, students who experienced a teacher-led strategy for using
mathematics (M=10.8, SD=20.9) showed significantly lower performance gains than students who did
not experience this strategy (M=27.0, SD=29.5). The explored learning apps were designed to help
students explore new concepts. Watching a teacher demonstrate and use the apps in front of the
class appeared to have been detrimental to overall learning. Interviewing students might provide
additional data on why the passive use of mathematics apps was not effective
4 CONCLUSIONS
This study examined the use of mathematics apps from the perceptive of elementary school teachers.
Consistent with previous research, using apps improved short-term student learning performance [3,
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4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11]. Teachers were well trained and felt comfortable using apps in their classrooms
for exploring new concepts, review and homework. On average they spent an extra 10 minutes
preparing for lessons. Apps were most effective when they were used for review or homework as
opposed to exploring new concepts. Teacher demographics had little to do with learning performance,
with the exception of gender. It is not clear why students with female teachers outperformed students
with male teachers. Teacher-led demonstrations did not appear to be an optimal strategy for using
apps in the classroom. Finally, teacher-crafted guides appeared to work better for students than the
standardized worksheets offered by the app.
The results of this study offer a formative analysis of the kinds of teacher-related factors that affect
learning performance when mathematics apps are used and should be pursued in more depth.
Specifically, qualitative research in the form of interviews, focus groups and observations might
provide more information about the role of gender, purpose or intended learning outcomes, teaching
strategies, pedagogy and the design of optimal student guides.
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mathematics and science classrooms: A formative analysis”, Canadian Journal of Learning and
Technology, 34(1), 2008. Retrieved from https://goo.gl/D9MSkq
[3] K. Reimer and P. Moyer, “Third-graders learn about fractions using virtual manipulatives: A
classroom study”, Journal of Computers in Mathematics and Science Teaching, 24(1), 2005, pp.
5-25.
[4] M. M. Risconscente. “Results from a controlled study of the iPad fractions game Motion Math”,
Games and Culture, 8 (4), 2013, pp. 186-214.
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