UO’s Doabler receives grant to create technology-based math intervention

Christian Doabler, research assistant professor in the Center on Teaching and Learning (CTL) at the University of Oregon, recently received a four-year, $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF Award #1503161) to create a new intervention that will help students struggling with mathematics in first and second grade.

“A growing body of evidence suggests that effective, prevention-oriented instruction in the early school years can help children get on track for math success and reduce the need for special education,” Doabler said. “Our intervention will provide at-risk learners with differentiated instruction that is matched to their needs.”

According to Doabler, the Precision Mathematics intervention will blend hands-on exercises with customized, tablet-based activities tailored to each child’s needs. Data collected from the intervention will be sent to the CTL servers for processing, providing teachers with important student performance data.

“Conventional, paper-pencil assessments often disrupt classroom operations and take away from students’ instructional time,” Doabler said. “By embracing educational technology, we can rapidly provide teachers with data for adjusting and intensifying early math instruction.”

The new intervention will address some of the mathematical challenges that face students studying the Common Core—a set of standards that describe what students should know by the time they complete a grade in school. In particular, it will help students master concepts and problem-solving skills associated with early measurement and data analysis.

“Our intervention will directly teach students struggling with math how to identify and apply the principles of scientific investigation to answer important math problems,” Doabler said.

One measurement concept that students in first and second grade must master is unit iteration—the repetition of a single unit for a measurement. A common hands-on exercise to help students understand this key concept uses non-standard measurement units, such as paperclips. In one exercise, students line up a series of paperclips end-to-end without gaps to measure objects, like an eraser or a table.

The Precision Mathematics intervention under development by Doabler’s team translates these hands-on experiences into exercises that use touch-screen technology. After learning the concept of unit iteration with physical objects, students would then use tablets to receive individualized practice with the targeted concept. The program would measure students’ accuracy with the practice items and how long it took them to complete the exercise—important information for teachers evaluating how well students understand a concept.

“The real advantage of a ‘blended’ intervention that integrates small-group instruction, tactile experiments, and technology-based tools is that it provides structured and varied opportunities for students to practice with key mathematical content,” Doabler said. “Students today grow up using technology, so our intervention will provide an engaging way to reinforce the concepts and skills they are learning.”

The Precision Mathematics intervention is already under development. Doabler’s team, plans to start testing the intervention in spring 2016.