Calculators can boost pupils’ calculation and problem-solving, says EEF. Will Nick Gibb take note?

Janet Downs's picture
 12

Using calculators can improve pupils’ calculating and problem-solving skills, the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has found.

To achieve maximum benefit, calculators should be used in a ‘thoughtful and considered way’ taking age into account.  The EEF recommends primary pupils should use calculators ‘regularly’ but not daily.  Secondary school pupils should have ‘more frequent access’ in order to decide if and when to use them. 

 Pupils need to be taught calculator use, the EEF says.  For example, they could be given strategies to estimate answers before using a calculator to obtain an accurate answer.

The EEF report coincides with its guidance aimed at improving maths teaching in Key Stages 2 and 3.  

Pupils should be taught to ‘use a range of mental and other methods,’ the report advises.  They should ‘be able to recall number facts efficiently and quickly’.   While emphasising the importance of fluent recall, teachers ‘should also help pupils understand how different calculations work and when they are useful.’

Josh Hillman, Director of Education at the Nuffield Foundation, said:

This research is valuable because it synthesises a huge range of international evidence on what works and what doesn’t when it comes to teaching maths. For instance, it tells us that collaborative learning has a positive effect on attainment….’

The EEF advice is at odds with the opinions of schools minister Nick Gibb.  He claimed the improved SAT results in 2015 were because calculators had been forbidden and because the ‘valuable academies programme’ had been extended to primary schools.

Key stage 2 tests have changed since then.  In 2017, the proportion of 11-year-olds reaching the expected standard in the maths test was 77%.

But did the 2017 results confirm Gibbs’ assertion that allowing primary schools to become academies brings higher results?

Not according to government data.  There was little difference between LA maintained schools (still the majority of primary schools) where 76% of pupils reached the expected standard in maths and all academies/free schools where 75% did so.  

But there were differences within the academies/free school group.  78% of pupils in converter academies, mainly good or better schools on conversion, reached the expected maths standard, while 71% of free school* pupils and 67% of pupils in sponsored academies, mainly previously poor-performing schools, did so.

The Nuffield Foundation’s endorsement of collaborative learning is not likely to find favour with Gibb.   In 2015, he lumped ‘collaboration’ with ‘current orthodoxies’ rife in British schools. 

It’s unlikely Gibb will take notice of the EEF review.  Neither is he likely to heed the EEF’s earlier conclusion that mastery learning (another of Gibbs’s favourite strategies) ‘appears to be particularly effective when pupils work in groups…’  Gibb dislikes group work.   

Gibb claims his ideas are ‘evidence-based’ but, as we’ve said before, evidence-based teaching is based only on evidence accepted by Nick Gibb.  Other evidence, such as the EEF conclusions cited above, can be ignored if it doesn’t fit his preconceptions.  

 

*Data comparing free school results with those of other types of school should be treated with caution - there were too few free schools entering pupils for KS2 SATs.

Share on Twitter

Comments

agov's picture
Thu, 29/03/2018 - 17:34

May well be that calculators can be educationally beneficial when their use is taught properly. That is however very much not was happening under the Blair gang's irrationalism. My young relatives at the time were not only refusing to work out or understand how to do arithmetic but were actually, almost aggressively repetitively, shouting that they only needed to 'use the calculator', 'use the calculator' - it's what they learnt at school. Meanwhile grown men forced into signing on as unemployed were being subjected to bogus NuLab arithmetic 'tests' and being told their answers to arithmetic questions were wrong, despite them having given correct answers, because they 'hadn't used a calculator'.


Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 29/03/2018 - 17:43

agov - you can't generalise from anecdotes.  And I've never heard of anyone being refused a job when they've given the correct answer because they didn't use a calculator.  I rarely use anecdotes because they can't be verified.  


agov's picture
Fri, 30/03/2018 - 11:45

"you can't generalise from anecdotes"

Right - unless you posh it up by calling it induction. Not that I would do that. I might though form an obvious conclusion from actual individual facts involving sundry government services, and the many complaints and moans about them at the time from those affected. I didn't say that anyone at that time was refused a job. I referred to Nulab imposed tests administered by DWP employees/contractors. (Employers, or some of them, only became more prone to refuse jobs to people because of government imposed programmes after NuLab forced the unemployed onto rubbish like New Deal/The Work Programme/etc as employers made the obvious and unavoidable inference that the unemployed chose to be unemployed and had to be forced onto programmes to compel them to apply for jobs.

"I rarely use anecdotes because they can't be verified."
Should we in future point out any example of both of us or anyone else using them? Haven't you used one or two only recently?


Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 30/03/2018 - 14:16

agov -  you're quite welcome point out any anecdotes I use on the rare occasions I use them especially if you think I'm using them to make speculative generalisations.  And complaining about 'sundry government services', DWP contractors (ghastly, according to Private Eye), 'NuLab' is actually nothing to do with calculator use in school.     The EEF found the evidence that calculator use was beneficial if used in a 'thoughtful and considered way'.  It did not recommend that calculators be used haphazardly or that they replaced manual calculation or understanding.


agov's picture
Sat, 31/03/2018 - 15:43

"nothing to do with calculator use in school"

Except in the sense that there was clearly a pattern, across various services, of the government decreeing that use of calculators was to be promoted and demanded irrespective of how beneficial - or not - their use actually was.


Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 02/04/2018 - 09:11

agov – thanks to alerting me to a possible ‘trend’.  This doesn’t appear to be supported by evidence.  See NAO report on maths performance in primary schools (2008).  It says:

Key Stage 2:  ‘always try to tackle a problem with mental methods before using any other approach’

Level 5: ‘use appropriate non-calculator method for solving problems’

This doesn't seem to chime with your claim that the then government decreed the use of calculators 'irrespective of how beneficial - or not -their use actually was'.

 


Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 02/04/2018 - 09:31

Also see National Numeracy Strategy 1999: pupils should be able to ‘calculate accurately and efficiently, both mentally and with pencil and paper, drawing on a range of calculation strategies.’ 

It also said:

‘In the primary years, the calculator’s main role in mathematics lessons is not as a calculating tool, since children are still developing the mental calculation skills and written methods that they will need throughout their lives.’

 


agov's picture
Mon, 02/04/2018 - 14:14

Good points. So, if that was the intention (- let's leave aside that it was under that regime that many stopped giving any credence to government pronouncements), the question would arise of why there would be any need for reports and analyses to continually have to emphasise that calculator use has to be taught in a 'thoughtful and considered way', or 'taught well, calculators help rather than hinder provided pupils are taught mental methods alongside calculator and other methods' (to take a couple of random examples). Deepest apologies for citing Liz Truss (from 2011) but she provides an example of calculator use in exams here -

https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2011-11-30/debates/11113042000001/...

Also in 2011 Ofsted published Good practice in primary mathematics: evidence from 20 successful schools', which made the same point. Yet in 2012 Ofsted was still needing to highlight difficulties in students' understanding, with the one direct reference to calculator use seeming to indicate a lack of topic mastery. But perhaps it was just a problem with schools and entirely co-incidental that they were so keen on the same approach as adopted in other state organisations.


agov's picture
Mon, 02/04/2018 - 14:14

Good points. So, if that was the intention (- let's leave aside that it was under that regime that many stopped giving any credence to government pronouncements), the question would arise of why there would be any need for reports and analyses to continually have to emphasise that calculator use has to be taught in a 'thoughtful and considered way', or 'taught well, calculators help rather than hinder provided pupils are taught mental methods alongside calculator and other methods' (to take a couple of random examples). Deepest apologies for citing Liz Truss (from 2011) but she provides an example of calculator use in exams here -

https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2011-11-30/debates/11113042000001/...

Also in 2011 Ofsted published Good practice in primary mathematics: evidence from 20 successful schools', which made the same point. Yet in 2012 Ofsted was still needing to highlight difficulties in students' understanding, with the one direct reference to calculator use seeming to indicate a lack of topic mastery. But perhaps it was just a problem with schools and entirely co-incidental that they were so keen on the same approach as adopted in other state organisations.


Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 03/04/2018 - 09:40

agov - I love the tortured logic.   You claimed the Labour government encouraged calculator use over traditional methods.  I show the education department under Labour didn't do so.  Then you say that people stopped giving credence to government pronouncements in any case.  So the Lab government either mandated calculator use over other methods and everyone took notice.  Or they urged caution but were ignored.

 


Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 03/04/2018 - 09:54

agov - re Liz Truss -she said national curriculum 'actively encouraged' calculator use but missed out the crucial point that mental and traditional methods should be used first and calculators should not be a 'prop' (to cite NCETM guidance accompanying the numeracy strategy).    This is the same Liz Truss who criticised 'chunking' as a 'tortuous' method shortly before the  DfE produced a video showing a teacher at  flagship Kings College Maths School using the method. 

Truss also made much of the fact that the UK was 28th in PISA maths test but didn't say this was only one place below the UK position in 2006 (27th) or that UK pupils performed at the OECD maths  average (nothing wrong with 'average' although I appreciate it would be pleasing to say UK students performed 'above average' as they've consistently done in science in PISA tests since 2006 - funnily enough, Tory ministers and the media fail to mention this above average performance).  She cited TIMSS 2007 to say calculator use was highest in England but forgot to say the TIMSS results of 2007 showed England as a top European country in maths and science.  Correlation isn't causation, of course, but England's high TIMSS score rather undermines her argument that English pupils are hindered by calculator use.

 


agov's picture
Thu, 05/04/2018 - 11:45

"I show the education department under Labour didn't do so"

No, you showed that's what it claimed.

"people stopped giving credence to government pronouncements"

Yep, because government claims increasingly became unbelievable and bizarre when compared to what was clearly happening.

So that would be you getting yourself to fallacious conclusions. Or a non sequitur, as you logic people like to say.

Presumably Liz Truss also missed out the bit of the exam instructions that said 'examinees should first use mental and traditional methods and not use calculators as a prop; then ignore all that and use a calculator'.

(PS Don't know why a double posting appeared - I had been careful not to do any of the naughty things that have caused it in the past.)


Add new comment

Already a member? Click here to log in before you comment. Or register with us.