KU News Release

March 13, 2012
Contact: Mike Krings, KU News Service, 785-864-8860

KU to test improved online math tutorials in Singapore, Kansas schools

Diana Greer and Ed Meyen

LAWRENCE — On the surface, Kansas and Singapore may not appear to have much in common. But researchers at the University of Kansas have developed a set of online math tutorials they will test in schools in both places, in hopes of developing curriculum that will improve math scores for students across the nation.

Singapore regularly ranks No. 1 in the world for math achievement. Ed Meyen, professor of special education, and Diana Greer, assistant research professor at KU’s Center for Research on Learning, are leading a project that has developed math tutorials that require less reading than traditional models. The online modules will be beneficial to students with cognitive disabilities.

“We try to listen to teachers to find out what they need in their classrooms,” Meyen said. “For the last two or three years they’ve been telling us they need online tutorials with limited reading necessary for students with disabilities. We’re trying to measure math, and what we were measuring was reading.”

The new tutorials, which were recently rolled out in Singapore, will be tested for about six weeks to determine their effectiveness for students with disabilities and what further development may be necessary. In the fall, they will be tested in 60 school districts across Kansas, and if all goes according to plan, will later be made available to schools across the United States.

The tutorials, designed for fourth-grade students, are an extension of the Blended Assessment with Instruction Program, started at the eLearning Design Lab in the Center for Research on Learning in 2004 through a collaborative effort with John Poggio, professor of education. The program developed e-learning opportunities, aligned with curriculum, to help schools and students meet mandated assessments as well as prepare them for the demands of a global society. The center developed hundreds of tutorials that are in use at more than 60 schools across Kansas. The program has a management system that enables teachers to choose the tutorials they want their students to take. They then log in, complete the assignments, and the software captures data about the students’ performance and feeds it back to the teachers.

Tutorials developed through the Blended Assessment with Instruction Program proved effective but did present a challenge. Schools are required to provide students with learning disabilities the same level of instruction as their classmates. If students have difficulty reading, that often prevents them from completing instruction and class materials at the same rate. The new math tutorials address that issue. Developed and animated at KU, the tutorials address questions such as “what is volume?” by showing students images, presenting questions in an interactive format and having them take part in activities and learn, all without having to read long questions and passages.

KU is working with the National Institute of Education in Singapore, and the country’s Ministry of Education provided a grant to fund the work there.

“We’ll look at the difference in performance between the two locations, but also just continue to study the functionality, so we can continue to improve the tutorials,” Greer said.

The program will continue to develop resources for parents, in addition to the material for students and teachers. Materials will be shared with parents in both Singapore and the U.S. about what their children are learning and how they can continue to help them learn at home. The resources will include activities such as demonstrating volume at a grocery store, and a dictionary of curriculum standards and educational terms.

“It will let parents know about actual curriculum standards,” Greer said of the parent activities. “It says, ‘Here is what it technically says, and this is what it means and how you can teach it.’”

The original e-learning tutorials developed by the Blended Assessment with Instruction Program have proven effective in the schools they’ve been tested in. The majority of districts that tested them are still using them and have shown about a 94 percent completion percentage for students who take them.

“They say with online instruction students tend not to complete it,” Meyen said. “We haven’t had that problem at all.”

The University of Kansas is a major comprehensive research and teaching university. University Relations is the central public relations office for KU's Lawrence campus.

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