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When it pays to compare: Benefits of comparison in mathematics classrooms Bethany Rittle-Johnson Jon R. Star

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Common Ground: Comparison Cognitive Science: A fundamental learning mechanism –This symposium! Mathematics Education: A key component of expert teaching

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Comparison in Mathematics Education –Compare solution methods –“You can learn more from solving one problem in many different ways than you can from solving many different problems, each in only one way” –(Silver, Ghousseini, Gosen, Charalambous, & Strawhun, p. 288)

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Compare Solution Methods Expert teachers do it (e.g. Lampert, 1990) Reform curriculum advocate for it (e.g. NCTM, 2000; Fraivillig, Murphy & Fuson, 1999) Teachers in higher performing countries help students do it (Richland, Zur & Holyoak, 2007)

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Does comparison support mathematics learning? Experimental studies on comparison in K-12 academic domains and settings largely absent Goals of initial work –Investigate whether comparing solution methods facilitates learning in middle-school classrooms 7th graders learning to solve equations 5th graders learning about computational estimation

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Studies 1 & 2 Compare condition: Compare and contrast alternative solution methods vs. Sequential condition: Study same solution methods sequentially Rittle-Johnson, B. & Star, J.R. (2007). Does comparing solution methods facilitate conceptual and procedural knowledge? An experimental study on learning to solve equations. Journal of Educational Psychology.

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Compare Condition Equation Solving

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Sequential Condition next page

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Predicted Outcomes Students in compare condition will make greater gains in: –Procedural knowledge, including Success on novel problems Flexibility of procedures (e.g. select efficient procedures; evaluate when to use a procedure) –Conceptual knowledge (e.g. equivalence)

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Study 1 Method Participants: 70 7th-grade students and their math teacher Design: –Pretest - Intervention - Posttest –Replaced 2 lessons in textbook –Intervention occurred in partner work during 2 1/2 math classes Randomly assigned to Compare or Sequential condition Studied worked examples with partner Solved practice problems on own

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Knowledge Gains F(1, 31) =4.49, p <.05F(1,31) = 7.73, p <.01 Compare condition made greater gains in procedural knowledge and flexibility; Comparable gains in conceptual knowledge

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Study 2: Helps in Estimation Too! Same findings for 5th graders learning computational estimation (e.g. About how much is 34 x 18?) –Greater procedural knowledge gain –Greater flexibility –Similar conceptual knowledge gain

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Summary of Studies 1 & 2 Comparing alternative solution methods is more effective than sequential sharing of multiple methods –In mathematics, in classrooms

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My Own Comparison of the Literatures Comparing the cognitive science and mathematics education literatures highlighted a potentially important dimension: –What is being compared?

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Study 3: Compared to What? Solution Methods Problem Types Surface Features

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Compared to What? Mathematics Education - Compare solution methods for the same problem Cognitive Science - Compare surface features of different examples with the same solution or category structure –e.g., Dunker’s radiation problem: Providing a solution in 2 stories with different surface features, and prompting for comparison, greatly increased spontaneous transfer of the solution (Gick & Holyoak, 1980; 1983; Catrambone & Holyoak, 1989) –e.g., Providing two exemplars of a novel spatial relation greatly increased extension of the label to a new exemplar (Gentner, Christie & Namy)

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Similarity May Matter Comparing moderately similar examples is better (Gick & Paterson, 1992; VanderStoep & Seiffert, 1993) –But: Comparing highly similar examples is sometimes better (Reed, 1989; Ross & Kilbane, 1997) –Comparing highly similar examples can facilitate success with less similar examples (Kotovsky & Gentner, 1996; Gentner, Christie & Namy)

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Study 3: Compared to What? Solution Methods (M = 3.8 on scale from 1 to 9) Problem Types (M = 6.6) Surface Features (M = 8.3)

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Predicted Outcomes Moderate similarity/dissimilarity is best, so Compare Solution Methods and Compare Problem Types groups will outperform compare surface features group. –But, students with low prior knowledge may benefit from high similarity, and thus learn more in compare surface features condition.

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Study 3 Method Participants: 163 7th & 8th grade students from 3 schools Design: –Pretest - Intervention - Posttest - Retention –Replaced 3 lessons in textbook –Randomly assigned to Compare Solution Methods Compare Problem Types Compare Surface Features –Intervention occurred in partner work

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Conceptual Knowledge Compare Solution Methods condition made greatest gains in conceptual knowledge F (2, 154) = 6.10, p =.003)

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Flexibility: Flexible Knowledge of Procedures Solution Methods > Problem Type > Surface Feature F (2, 154) = 4.95, p =.008)

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Flexibility: Use of Efficient Procedures Greater use of more efficient solution methods in Compare Methods and Problem Types conditions F (2, 135) = 3.35, p =.038)

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Procedural Knowledge No effect of condition on familiar or transfer equations But…

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Procedural Knowledge and Prior Knowledge Posttest performance depended on prior conceptual knowledge

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Explanation Characteristics Explanations offered during the intervention: Very similar for Compare Solution Methods and Problem Types: –Mostly focus on solution methods, and often on multiple methods –Most common comparison is of solution steps –Evaluations usually focus on efficiency of methods Compare Surface Features –more likely to focus on and to compare problem features –Evaluations are rare

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Summary Comparing Solution Methods often supported the largest gains in conceptual knowledge and flexibility. –Comparing Problem Types sometimes as effective for flexibility. However, students with low prior knowledge may learn equation solving procedures better from Comparing Surface Features

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Conclusion Comparison is an important learning activity in mathematics Careful attention should be paid to: –What is being compared –Who is doing the comparing - students’ prior knowledge may matter

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Acknowledgements For slides, papers or more information, contact: b.rittle-johnson@vanderbilt.edu Funded by a grant from the Institute for Education Sciences, US Department of Education Thanks to research assistants at Vanderbilt: –Holly Harris, Jennifer Samson, Anna Krueger, Heena Ali, Sallie Baxter, Amy Goodman, Adam Porter, John Murphy, Rose Vick, Alexander Kmicikewycz, Jacquelyn Beckley and Jacquelyn Jones And at Michigan State: –Kosze Lee, Kuo-Liang Chang, Howard Glasser, Andrea Francis, Tharanga Wijetunge, Beste Gucler, and Mustafa Demir

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Two Equation Solving Procedures

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Why Equation Solving? Students’ first exposure to abstraction and symbolism of mathematics Area of weakness for US students –(Blume & Heckman, 1997; Schmidt et al., 1999) Multiple procedures are viable –Some are better than others –Students tend to learn only one method

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Procedural Knowledge Assessments Equation Solving –Intervention: 1/3(x + 1) = 15 –Posttest Familiar: -1/4 (x – 3) = 10 –Posttest Novel: 0.25(t + 3) = 0.5 Flexibility –Solve each equation in two different ways –Looking at the problem shown above, do you think that this way of starting to do this problem is a good idea? An ok step to make? Circle your answer below and explain your reasoning. (a) Very good way (b)Ok to do, but not a very good way (c) Not OK to do

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Conceptual Knowledge Assessment

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