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There's a new story about an app that "teaches UK pupils 18 months of maths in six weeks".

Assuming this result is true (and such claims need a strong justification), what could be the cause of this app working so well, and of the huge difference?

And do any other places show such benefits for technology?

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    $\begingroup$ In this and other scenarios, the faster and more personalized the feedback, the faster/better anyone can learn anything, assuming the student is engaged. The possibility of automating such feedback is not surprising, but to do so to both entertain/engage students and actually accomplish substantive objectives is not so easy. Design issues matter. $\endgroup$ – paul garrett Sep 7 '14 at 16:37
  • $\begingroup$ According to BBC, the organization responsible for the software is onebillion.org.uk/about $\endgroup$ – Alecos Papadopoulos Sep 10 '14 at 22:37
  • $\begingroup$ The story linked does not give enough information about this app. Anything we say here is pure speculation. $\endgroup$ – Sue VanHattum Sep 12 '14 at 3:01
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    $\begingroup$ If you want to see a program that comes close to this, take a look khan academy stuff in math. Working with my nephew this summer he did most of the intro trig course in 6 weeks of about an hour a day, and he is not terribly engaged with math in general. I don't think I'd buy the 12:1 ratio that is claimed here, but 3-4:1 is certainly reasonable with KA. The difference is mostly "Time on task" coupled with frequent reviews. $\endgroup$ – Sherwood Botsford Sep 12 '14 at 20:49
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I read the article. Note that, after reading the article:

  • We don't know what they assessed
  • We don't know how they assessed it
  • We don't know anything about the comparison groups, including what they are comparing the treatment group to.
  • We don't know anything about what the app does. What subject matter? How is it represented? What do students do with it?
  • Their definition of rigorous is "demands a score of 10 out of 10." That's rigor? What's it have to do with learning?
  • How did they research their treatment? Where did they publish?

If I had to guess wildly, they're giving students some sort of repeated practice in some algorithms procedures or math facts, and then assessing those facts and procedures directly. If this is the case, their results would not be too surprising. But that's a wild guess on very little information. Looking into it a little further, the apps seem to focus on counting to 10, counting to 20, and the times tables for 2s, 5s, and 10s. That sounds like something fairly reasonable to teach to someone in 6 weeks.

Without actual research, we're left to speculate as I have done above. You can take my comments above as addressing your "what could be the causes" question.

In short, the causes could be: 1) comparison to a situation that was previously lacking in time actually spent on learning. 2) Math content that relies on memorization and repetition rather than understanding. We already know that certain things, when drilled repeatedly, can result in gains performing tasks or recalling facts. If they're essentially creating a mechanized and more engaging form of drilling, and testing exactly those things, then you will see gains.

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    $\begingroup$ After reading the article, I had a rather negative attitude, but wasn't able to put it in writing. This article says what I would have wanted to write. $\endgroup$ – Bernard Masse Sep 9 '14 at 18:24

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