Wednesday, May 1, 2013
Imagine spending over 38 hours solving nearly 10,000 multiplication problems. The fourth graders at Landmark Christian School in Fairburn, Ga., did just that over the course of four weeks in class earlier this year. The work was part of an experiment performed by Dr. Michael Orsega, University of West Georgia Computer Science professor.
Orsega and Kylie Sams, a UWG undergraduate Computer Science student, developed a program with hopes of identifying strategic ways to help students practice their basic multiplication skills. With the help of Landmark Christian School Principal Kelli Penn and fourth grade teachers Nancy Gunter and Cori Wilson, Orsega introduced the program to the fourth graders in the fall of 2012.
The students participated in two versions of the program and worked with each version twice. One version only delivered “target” problems, problems that multiplied numbers by three or more. The second version had the same “target” problems, but after every third “target” problem, the students would be introduced to a “brief” problem, problems that multiplied numbers below three. The students used the program for 15 minutes, once per week, for four weeks.
Because all of the problems were performed on the computer, Orsega was able to collect an accurate measure of how long each student took for each problem. From this he took an average on the time each student spent on the “target” problems. He discovered that when the students used the second version, with “brief” problems introduced, they were able to complete the problems almost one second faster than when they were using the first version, with only “target” problems.
Orsega also noted that during the experiment, students showed an improvement in their overall multiplication skills simply from participating in the study. “We concluded that if instructors, tutors or textbook developers want their students to work the problems faster, they should introduce ‘brief’ problems throughout, instead of what is traditionally done, which is to have the problems get increasingly harder,” he said.
This spring, Orsega’s experiment came full circle when he was invited to return to the Landmark Christian School science class to present his findings in a 30-minute presentation on “The Scientific Method.” He used his steps, process and results to fully explain the method of his experiment.
Penn is happy the students were personally included in the experiment. “Hopefully their participation in this experiment will help make the scientific process more real to them,” Penn said.
Orsega and the Landmark Christian School teachers are currently writing a paper detailing the experiment and their findings. They hope to have the information published.