Monday, August 22, 2016

Interleaving and Math

Autumn Leave, Japan, Nature, Maple, Red  Interleaving is making the rounds in the education community because it is so different from most of our teaching and the results indicate it helps students really learn the material even in math.

The idea behind this is simple.  Instead of focusing on one skill such as learning piano scales, you mix the skills such as scales, chords, and arpeggios. 

According to Scientific American, the advantages of interleaving include last effects, may be one of the most effective teaching methods for math,  and strengthens memory associations.

By interleaving topics, the brain is constantly retrieving different responses to use in short term memory.  Since each problem is different, the brain is creating connections between the different problems and the correct answers, it enhances learning.  The drawback with this technique is that at first it seems the learning is slow and difficult at first, it produces longer lasting results.

It is suggested the types of problems be mixed up especially on homework to start the process. Although implementing it requires careful planning, it does not require extra training, special equipment or extra time which makes it fairly easy to use.

According to several articles I've read, the interleaving is best applied to independent practice problems and to homework because that is where it has the most effect.  In addition, you might try to group problems according to related topics so there is a relationship.  I do not mean have all the same type of problems but perhaps a ratio word problem with another for finding the slope of a line.

We often complain that students have difficulty in transferring their knowledge from one topic to another but this may help that issue since students are working more than one type of problem. The problems are mixed, requiring them to transfer knowledge.

According to Mind Shift At KQED, the question on home work is not about the quantity of problems but the quality of the problems included.  They recommend mixing up the problems rather than grouping them by type so they don't know what the next one is going to be.  This requires their brains to work harder finding the solution because they don't know what is coming next.

Various studies are showing that students who use this interleaving technique to help study the material end up having higher test scores than students who only work the problems grouped with the same type.

So think about this for the upcoming school year.  When you assign homework, do not do the page 27 every 3rd problem.  Select several from different pages and put them all mixed up on the homework page so students are given a more effective practice.  This is what I plan to do next week, when I start assigning homework.

Let me know your thoughts.  Keep an eye out because I plan to investigate other topics such as spaced practice, etc to see how I can use them in Math.