Figures released in September showed that the number of HSC students studying maths has plummeted to its lowest level in 50 years.
The figures, from the Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards (BOSTES) NSW revealed that in 2016, just 69.8% of HSC students are studying a maths subject – down from nearly 95% in 1986.
However, the creators of a new e-learning resource – Matific – are aiming to turn this around by turning a traditional maths lesson into something fun and exciting.
Matific is an online mathematics education tool with a presence in 46 countries around the world – and it’s showing some promising results.
A research report from Western Sydney University found an average increase of 34% between students’ pre and post-test results, and for many students the use of Matific was a significant influence on their improvement.
‘Creating a fun and engaging atmosphere for students’
The report was completed by leading researcher, Associate Professor Catherine Attard, Centre for Education Research at Western Sydney University, and examined eight different schools in NSW to uncover the benefits of e-learning.
Attard told The Educator that the research demonstrates that e-learning creates a fun and engaging atmosphere for students’ and the use of Matific as an e-learning tool in the classroom engaged students on operative, cognitive and affective levels.
“All young people are actively involved in game playing in either a physical or digital form, so it makes sense to expect that the use of digital games in education could assist in increasing student engagement with content such as mathematics that may otherwise feel irrelevant to students’ everyday lives,” she said.
“Students were cognitively engaged, that is, they were thinking hard about the mathematics, because the resources allowed them to interact with the activities and with their peers.”
Attard said one of the most significant themes that came out of the research from the qualitative data gathered from students was that Matific assisted learning.
“Students from across all eight case studies talked about how the Matific episodes helped them learn mathematics and were able to talk about the mathematics they had learned, rather than focusing on the actual game-related aspects of the episodes,” she said.
“It was clear from the data gathered from students and their teachers in each of the case studies that engagement with mathematics improved as a result of using Matific.”
Dispelling the notion that ‘maths is hard’
So why was student engagement in mathematics declining to begin with?
Brent Hughes, education expert at Matific, told The Educator that a big part of the problem is that children all over the world are given the idea that maths is hard and that not everyone is going to be able to be successful in it.
He said this attitude robs children of many opportunities before they even get to high school.
“Matific does two things: It’s seemingly simple but incredibly complex. We created Matific so we can give all children an opportunity to be successful in mathematics and get children to smile while they do it,” he said.
“Maths isn’t the most popular subject in school and is barely tolerated by a lot of children. We are working every single day on changing this attitude and helping teachers build a community of learners in their classroom that will go on to high school enthusiastic about learning maths, rather than being terrified of it.”
Hughes said the positive and excited response from students and teachers shows that Matific has been effective on a number of levels.
“Not only did the use of Matific in the classroom help boost student’s test results by 34%, but the engagement and general excitement about learning mathematics was increased and there was a reduction in student maths anxiety,” he said.
“An outstanding feature of the Matific resources, according to the students, is that it is fun to use. There was a shift in the perception of mathematics from it being boring and something to endure or tolerate to one of genuine excitement.”
Hughes said the ‘fun’ feeling came from students not only enjoying the games but from the fact they were learning as well.
“Overall, we had a positive response from teachers who all said they would continue to use Matific in the classroom due to the results and effect it had on the students,” he said.
‘Students now want to do their homework’
Danielle Hain, Year 6 Teacher at Waitara Public School, told The Educator that she has seen some significant changes in her school since introducing Matific.
“My students now look forward to maths. They see Matific as a way that they can learn new things and also practice maths they already know as well as complete complex problems,” she said.
“A big change has been seeing the children going home excited about what they learned in class and this change in attitude has been great. We don’t have to worry about them not doing their homework when it’s Matific because they want to do it.”
Hain said the school had a few students who would openly tell their teachers that they didn’t like maths and that they get bored with the worksheet style of learning.
“So to hear these same children describe themselves as Visual Learners who engage with Matific’s content because it is bright and colourful is just wonderful,” she said.
“Two children in my class told me that they are more confident in all maths work we do since using Matific. They like that it is challenging but not impossible because they are given the tools to work out what is being asked.”