Research and Reports
Teachers who use techniques of teaching mathematics modeled on those of successful colleagues can bring about marked increases in achievement for their students, according to a recently completed study by two researchers from the College of Education at the University of Missouri-Columbia.
The researchers, Thomas Good and Douglas Grouws, examined the effects of an experimental mathematics program, which they developed from their previous research findings on effective teachers. Using more than 1,000 4th-grade students and 40 teachers from 27 schools, the researchers divided the schools into "treatment" and "control" groups.
In order to guard against a possible "motivation" effect--results that occur because participants are interested and enthusiastic, not because of any particular method--the researchers encouraged teachers from both groups to try to improve students' achievement. Students were tested before the study began.
The researchers found that the students whose teachers used the experimental program improved more than did the students whose teachers had continued to teach in their usual manner.
Although students in the "treatment" group began the study with lower achievement scores than the controls--they were ranked in the 26.5 percentile--they jumped to the 57.5 percentile after 10 weeks. Students in the control group also improved--from the 29.8 percentile to the 48.8 percentile, according to the researchers.
Several teaching practices emerged as important factors in improving achievement, according to the study. The "treatment" teachers spent more time explaining the meaning of the material than did the "control" teachers, and the students in the experimental group spent less time doing "seatwork."
Also, the teachers who used the program reviewed 92 percent of the material, compared to 62 percent for the control teachers.
They also required students to do "mental computation" 69 percent of the time, compared to 6 percent for the controls. And they assigned homework 66 percent of the time, compared to 13 percent for the controls.
"Systematic and active" teaching is the researchers' term for the method of the successful teachers. Their findings, based on seven years of research, will be published this fall in a book entitled Active Mathematics Teaching by Mr. Good, Mr. Grouws, and Howard Ebmeier, also of the University of Missouri.
The use of computers in planning school-lunch programs may increase student participation, reduce plate waste, and result in a lower cost per meal, even though more food may be consumed, a recent Massachusetts study suggests.
Joseph Balintfy, a professor of business administration at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst who conducted the study, says that the nation's school-lunch program could be made more economical and nutritionally effective with the use of computer-designed menus to balance food costs, nutrients, and students' preferences.
"The problem with the school-lunch program now," Mr. Balintfy says, "is that food-service and dietary professionals don't have the procedural standards necessary to plan efficient and effective menus. Neither food preferences nor nutrients are explicitly addressed anywhere, and the problem is how to get the best bargain in nutrition for the least cost."
Schools receive federal subsidies for their lunch programs only if they are in compliance with "the four-food-group idea," Mr. Balintfy explains, under which students are served portions of meat, milk, bread, and fruit and vegetables. While this system worked fine in times of plenty, it is inefficent in times of scarcity, he says.
So far, he says, the government and dietary professionals have proposed only two ways to reduce costs: cutting the amount of food served to children and allowing them to refuse two out of five meal components while paying full price for their meals. But denying children food to make ends meet is "cruel and unusual punishment," he believes. His research on the use of computers, he says, indicates that the practice is unnecessary as well.