Fraction Spacecraft intervention study

The Fraction Spacecraft intervention study’s aim is to compare the effects of virtual and concrete manipulatives in fourth and fifth graders learning of fractions and decimal numbers, as well as the potentially differential effects on students with mathematical difficulties. Students participating in the study are assigned into one of three groups: two intervention groups and one control group. One of the intervention groups will experience Fraction Spacecraft intervention where fractions and decimal numbers are taught by using virtual manipulatives. The other intervention group will experience the same lessons but use concrete manipulatives. The third group will serve as a control group. The third group will serve as a control group. The control group will continue business-as-usual math instruction that doesn’t include virtual or concrete manipulatives.

In the Fraction Spacecraft intervention study, we also want to examine the time-efficiency of virtual and concrete manipulatives in learning fractions as well as the students’ and teachers’ attitudes towards the intervention and the manipulative used.

Previous research has showed that competence in fractions in elementary school predicts later mathematical achievement. Longitudinal studies have even showed that competence in fractions predicts later mathematical achievement beyond other mathematical skills, socioeconomical status and IQ.

Virtual manipulatives can be an easy way of supporting students in the days of technology. Studies that have concentrated on comparing virtual and concrete manipulatives in teaching fractions have conducted that using virtual manipulatives can especially beneficial to mathematically low-performing students. Using virtual manipulatives can also reduce the effects of demographic factors such as socioeconomical status on mathematical achievement. In addition, using virtual manipulatives can also be more time-efficient compared to concrete ones. Results from the studies comparing virtual and concrete manipulatives in teaching fractions are however mixed and this subject has not been studied at all in Finnish context.

The intervention program will be implemented for two weeks, three times a week. So, the intervention consists of six 45-minute lessons.

Every intervention lesson has its own subject. In the beginning of the lesson, the subject from the previous lesson will be revised, a new subject will be introduced interactively, and the students will have time for individual practice in the form of exercises and their manipulatives. Space traveling is supporting theme for each of the intervention lessons and new all the subjects taught will be attached to it. In every lesson a story related to space traveling, attuning the students to the theme, is listened to.

The intervention concentrates on the concept of fraction, magnitude comparison, mixed fractions and converting fractions into decimal numbers and vice versa. In addition, the students will apply the skills acquired into word problems and other exercises where they need to apply the skills they have learned.

Fraction Spacecraft intervention has been piloted in November and December in 2019. The results have helped us to modify the intervention and the aim is to collect a larger sample in the spring of 2020.

Students achievement is measured by different assessment tasks that measure different mathematical skills. Assessment tasks are performed for every group before, after and seven weeks after completing the intervention. Students and teachers participating in the study will also report about their attitudes towards the Fraction Spacecraft intervention and the manipulative used. The assessment tasks are performed in a paper-and-pencil manner.