How to Maximize Engaged Time

How should you allocate computer lab time?

Assuming you are using supplemental math software, which of the scenarios do you think would be most effective?
  • Students use it every day for 10-15 minutes
  • Students use it twice per week, 30 minutes at a time
  • Students use it once per week for 1 hour

Based on studies of MathScore in 2005 and 2006, we have reached conclusions which may surprise you. In the 2005 study, a fifth grade class consistently went to computer lab every Thursday for one hour. The students did not use MathScore on school computers on any other day. In the 2006 study, the same fifth grade teacher took her students to computer lab twice per week, 30 minutes at a time. She was very consistent at doing this throughout the year.

The Results

The median student in 2005 logged 20 hours of time spent doing actual worksheets. In 2006, the median student only logged 14 hours, 44 minutes. Based on this data, the median student in 2005 was 35% more productive than the median student in 2006! Not surprisingly, the test score increases for that class in 2005 were better than the test score increases in 2006.

Why this is the case

It takes time for a student to get settled into a new activity. In the case of a website, the student needs to visit the right website, log in correctly, then start working. There may be other distractions, such as the commotion of other students getting started as well. As a result, it takes at least a few minutes for the average student to "get in the zone" and really focus.

Furthermore, if the lab period is fairly short, some students (or even the teacher) will start to anticipate when the lab period is going to end. So in some cases, the last few minutes of an activity will be less productive than when you are in the middle of the activity.

Therefore, a 30 minute lab session is not really a 30 minute lab session. If the beginning and end of the session costs you 5-10 minutes, then you end up wasting a high percentage of the total lab period. With a 1 hour lab session, a much smaller percentage of the time is wasted. Furthermore, students become so engrossed in a 1-hour lab session that they do not anticipate the end of the lab period, often saying "Hold on, I have to finish this worksheet" when the teacher announces the end of the session.

Therefore, 15 minutes a day appears to be questionable. We don't have a formal study around this type of usage, but we certainly do not recommend it!

Conclusion

Longer sessions are generally better than more frequent short sessions, and a 1-hour session is definitely not too long. We cannot prove that this applies to all learning programs, but as far as MathScore is concerned, we are convinced that 1-hour sessions are better than shorter sessions, and hope this data helps shape your approach for allocating lab time in your own school.

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