Making math interesting. An experimental study of interventions to encourage interest in mathematics
Not peer reviewed
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Many students lose interest in mathematics as they progress through school. Therefore, the purpose of this project was to examine ways to encourage interest in mathematics by investigating two instructional interventions among middle school students.
This article-based dissertation is comprised of three articles and an extended summary. The extended summary includes a review of the theoretical field of interest in education, theoretical framing, method and research design, a summary of results, and a general discussion. The theoretical framing was based on the model of interest development by Hidi and Renninger, which focuses on how situated experiences of interest during learning (situational interest) can promote long-term motivational disposition (individual interest) for specific content. Environmental features can encourage situational interest; however, those with an individual interest in mathematics are more likely to be interested in learning math. Therefore, the overarching aim of this research was to identify ways to encourage situational interest among students who are not disposed to interest in math.
The theoretical framing was based on the instructional interventions used to promote interest, context personalization and example choice, which involve different ways to connect concepts students need to learn with knowledge they are already familiar with or interested in. Methodologically, a quantitative approach to the research field was adopted, including an experimental random-control group design, to examine the effect of the interventions.
Article I is a quantitative analysis of the relation between individual and situational interest for different grade levels and genders. The findings showed that although girls reported less individual interest than boys, they experienced the same level of situational interest when learning mathematics. For the grade levels, there were similarities between reports of individual and situational interest. These findings suggest that age-related declines in individual interest can also be observed in specific learning situations, unlike gender differences.
Article II is an experimental study of three types of instructional interventions on situational interest: context personalization based on students’ out-of-school interests, example choice, and a “one-size-fits-all” approach that provides all students with an example. The findings showed that context personalization and example choice had positive effects on situational interest, particularly among those with low individual interest and perceived competence in mathematics, as well as on effort. The “one-size-fits-all” approach did not have any effect on interest or effort. Neither intervention affected students’ problem-solving skills during the experiment.
Article III is an experimental study of three instructional interventions: context personalization based on students’ preferences, example choice with selected topics, and a “one-size-fits-all” approach that provides all students with an example that other students find interesting. Example choice had a small effect on triggered situational interest, whereas context personalization did not positively influence situational interest.
Based on the findings from the three articles, the main contribution of this project is the introduction of a new theoretical distinction for the context personalization literature related to the differences between interest and preference-based approaches used to encourage students’ interest. It also contributes to increasing knowledge regarding the more newly developed interventions of example choice. Furthermore, the findings demonstrate that not all observed differences in individual interest correspond to differences in situational interest, which can influence the ways schools and teachers approach changes in individual interest.