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FINNUT-Forskning og innovasjon i utdanningssektoren

Question Asking and Storytelling as Means to Increase Mathematics Interest in Teacher Education

Alternative title: Spørsmål og fortellinger som metode for å øke interesse i matematikk i lærerutdanningen

Awarded: NOK 11.8 mill.

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2019 - 2024


Lack of interest, especially in the STEM-fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics), has been an unsolved problem from middle school to tertiary level. It is therefore an important challenge to develop interventions to increase interest. Earlier research has found evidence for the effectivity of various interventions, such as personalization, example choice, and relevance intervention, have a positive effect on interest in the STEM-fields. However, there are interventions used in instruction that have not been tested empirically. Two of them are question asking and storytelling. Two subprojects are dedicated to explore these interventions. The first subproject uses experimental methods to examine the effect of hearing or posing questions about mathematics on interest in teacher students. The second subproject investigates the effect of hearing or writing a story that includes the mathematics to be learned on teacher students interest. The research does not only explore the effects of the interventions but also tackles the underlying mechanisms. We assume that to hear and particularly to pose questions increases interest mainly because it arouses curiosity due to the discovery of knowledge gaps whereas to hear and particularly to write a story that embeds the mathematics problem at hand increases interest because it connects mathematics to personal interests. We do not only assess interest but also learning outcomes to ascertain that interest does not undermine learning, as it is the case for glossy pictures that attract attention without supporting learning. Finally, to do research with teacher students is an exciting opportunity because teachers do not only have to learn mathematics but to teach it at school. We shall explore whether the awareness of this role increases both academic and didactic interest. We have started measurement in May 2019 with a pilot study where we tested a psychophysiological method to analyze the affect (which is a component of interest) through facial muscles; the results of this study were published but we could not use the method in the context of mathematics interest because (1) solving the mathematics problems did not lead to any measurable effect and (2) due to Covid it was not possible to use the method that requires that subjects are connected to measuring equipment. We conducted several studies with student teachers, physics students and psychology students. In these studies, we created a new way of user participation. We developed standardized interventions and objectives but users (teachers) could choose which of three interventions (asking questions; writing a story; creating their own tasks) they want to test and which subject they teach. As researchers, we adapt the survey. We have conducted a main study at OsloMet and three pilot studies with physics students and psychology students. With student teachers, we have found that asking questions, which is advocated by educators, does not automatically lead to more interest and better learning. Due to covid, there were fewer participants than expected; so we also started collecting data from students and teachers on the online portal Prolific. We ran a study with over 500 students where we tested whether they think it is most interesting to create a story for themselves or for others. The study showed that writing a story is more interesting than receiving a story, but there was no difference in interest between the groups that wrote a story that is interesting for others versus for themselves. A year ago, we prepared the same study to be conducted in China to collect cross-cultural data. This comparison is especially interesting because we predict that individualistic cultures in the west think it is more interesting to write a story about themselves whereas collectivistic cultures in Asia like to write a story for others. The study could not yet be conducted to Covid restrictions in China. We just finished a second study on storytelling with only one group that wrote a story that is supposed to be interesting, one group that read a story, and a control group that received generic information. We could replicate the basic finding that it is more interesting to write a story than to read a story or generic materials. We have to analyze the data in more detail. In a final study on Prolific, we assessed what methods teachers use to make a subject matter more interesting. We found that teachers use methods that are easy to use. This may lead to the underuse of methods that would be interesting but are difficult to use. This is also an important finding for the interventions tested in this project. We have now prepared another study to replicate the findings about ease of use of various methods to increase interest. This study will be run in winter 2022/2023.

As interest in mathematics is low among students at all educational levels, it is timely to develop interventions aimed at increasing interest in mathematics. This collaborative project (UiO; HiOA, HVL) examines two new interventions to increase interest in mathematics with Norwegian student teachers; one is question asking and the other is storytelling. Both have become much advertised in science education but their empirical basis is sparse. At a theoretical level, question asking is supposed to increase situational interest because it raises awareness of knowledge gaps, thus increasing curiosity and engagement. Storytelling may increase interest because it embeds abstract principles into a meaningful and personally relevant context. For both interventions, we expect that active conditions where students ask questions or write stories are more effective to raise situational interest than passive conditions where the teacher asks questions or embeds a principle in a story. However, there are limits to cognitive capacity that may impair learning and thus counteract the positive effects on interest. We examine the effects of question asking (Subproject 1) and storytelling (Subproject 2) on both interest and learning outcomes. The first study in each subproject compares student-generated versus teacher-generated questions or stories, respectively. The second study of each subproject examines the type of questions (factual, conceptual, and control) or the type of stories (subject-specific language versus everyday language, and control). The final studies test interventions, one on question asking and another on storytelling, to translate experimental research into a higher education context. The project yields new insights into mechanisms that mediate the effects of question asking and storytelling on interest. At a practical level, these interventions will extend the range of possible interventions to increase interest in mathematics in higher education.

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FINNUT-Forskning og innovasjon i utdanningssektoren