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HEARING MATH stories is beneficial for kids, just as hearing bedtime tales promotes kids acquiring reading skills. The payoff is especially dramatic in families with math-anxious parents. Proof positive of its legitimacy, there’s even an app.
The October 9, 2015, issue of Science magazine discusses this in “Math at Home Adds Up to Achievement in School,” by researchers at the University of Chicago. Talia Berkowitz, Marjorie W. Schaeffer and colleagues, together with mentors Susan C. Levine and Sian L. Bellock, devised a field experiment that included 587 first-graders in Chicago area schools.
Four hundred-twenty of the families were given iPads preloaded with a bedtime math app. As a control group, the remaining 167 families got iPads with a similar app dedicated to bedtime reading. The apps were developed from those produced by Bedtime Learning Together of the University of Chicago. Bedtime Math and others are freely available for Apple and Android systems.
Prior questionnaires identified a spectrum in the parents’ educational attitudes, some with high math anxiety, others less fearful of the subject. Not surprisingly, hitherto, high-anxious parents tended to correlate with low-achieving kids. However, one conclusion of the study was that “high-quality parent-child interactions about math at home help break the intergenerational cycle of low math achievement.”
The app provided post-story evaluations, nothing as daunting as tests, but other assessments of efficacy. For example, the math app focused on counting fluency, spatial names and basic arithmetic. The reading app assessed vocabulary, story inference and phonics. Kids also received one-on-one evaluations at school during the academic year.
Parent participation varied from less than half to more than six bedtime sessions per week. Achievement in math or reading generally correlated directly with the frequency of bedtime math or reading, respectively.
Researchers then analyzed the efficacy of math benefits as a function of frequency, low, once or greater than twice each week. Even the low-frequency kids profited, especially if they had math-friendly parents to begin with. Also, it appeared that two or more sessions per week improved performance less than proportionally, particularly for the kids of math-anxious parents.
The researchers note that, despite its being a multibillion-dollar business each year, educational apps are not without controversy. For example, in “Once Upon a Time: Parent-Child Dialogue and Storybook Reading in the Electronic Era,” researchers suggest that electronic features of sound and animation are distracting, not particularly beneficial to learning. (Bedtime Math purposely minimizes such features.)
Also, another study has shown that math-anxious parents who “help” their kids with homework actually undermine math achievement. This is especially true in these days of evolving curriculum changes. See “Common Core Math,” an earlier item at this website.
And, as I hinted there, don’t complain to me: Mathematics and science are neither liberal nor conservative. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2015