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FINNUT-Forskning og innovasjon i utdanningssektoren

Two Ways to Increase Student Interest for Mathematics and Science in Education

Awarded: NOK 6.8 mill.

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Project Period:

2012 - 2016


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The project examined how to increase interest in mathematics at middle school. We tested three interventions: (1) Example choice, developed by the PI and his colleagues at the University of Bergen. Students can choose the most interesting among several examples in which a mathematical task is embedded. The students then work with this example. The research in our project showed that this method is effective, especially for students with poor performance expectations and low initial interest. (2) Personalization, a method to customize content to the interests and preferences of the learner. Our research showed that interest-based but not preference-based triggered interest, while both interest-based and preference-based personalization increased the perceived value of learning mathematics. (3) Relevance intervention, a method in which students have either to write down or are presented with reasons for the value of mathematics in every-day life or their future career. in our project, relevance intervention was most effective if not combined with example choice. Moreover, we found gender differences. These findings have important implications for practice. First, example choice and interest-based personalization are effective to trigger interest, especially among pupils low in interest. Second, combining different interventions might lead to cognitive overload and therefore be ineffective. Third, our research revealed lower interest in mathematics among girls but we also showed that interest in the lesson can be boosted for both boys and girls. A summary of some of the findings can be found in the book "Critical Feeling", written by the PI Rolf Reber and published in 2016 at Cambridge University Press.

Lack of motivation in middle school has been identified as one of the most urgent problems in the Norwegian educational system. The basic idea of the proposed project consists in developing and testing interventions that make mathematics and science instr uction more interesting and thus motivates students to learn. In collaboration with Judith Harackiewicz (University of Wisconsin--Madison), we examine two recently developed teaching methods to increase interest: Example choice (developed by us) and relev ance intervention (developed by Harackiewicz), in two subprojects. Example choice makes learning of formal principles interesting by providing students with different contents they can choose from and then connecting these contents to the principle to be learned. Relevance intervention makes learning of principles interesting by relating them to goals related to and relevant for students' everyday life. Subproject 1: Examining the effects of combination of example choice and relevance intervention on int erest and learning. This subproject includes three studies: (1) Combined effects of example choice and active relevance intervention. (2) Combined effects of example choice and passive relevance intervention. (3) Implementation of relevance intervention a t school. Subproject 2: Examining the effects of personalization in connection to example choice or relevance intervention. This subproject includes three studies: (1) Effects of personalization on interest and learning and comparison to example choice. (2) Development and study of personalized relevance intervention. (3) Implementation of example choice and personalization at school. The significance of the projects lies in exploring new methods of making contents interesting by connecting what student s have to learn with the contents and goals they are interested in. The project may pave the way to completely new approaches to increase motivation at Norwegian schools and thus helps solve a major problem.

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FINNUT-Forskning og innovasjon i utdanningssektoren