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Online mathematics enrichment: an evaluation of the NRICH project

By Keith Jones and Helen Simons

Abstract

This Executive Summary forms part of the final report of the findings of the independent external evaluation of the NRICH online mathematics project. The evaluation was commissioned by the University of Cambridge, UK as represented by the Millennium Mathematics Project. The evaluation was carried out by the evaluation team from the University of Southampton, UK, during 1998-99. Data collection took place between April and September 1999. An interim report, based on one element of the evaluation, was presented at the NRICH conference held in July 1999.<br/><br/>1. The NRICH online mathematics enrichment project began in 1996 with the aim of establishing a permanent national UK centre for curriculum enrichment in mathematics. The project aims to provide mathematical learning support for very able children of all ages through the publication of a regular web-based ‘magazines’ featuring mathematical problems, puzzles, articles and games. University mathematics students act as peer teachers providing an electronic answering service. The centre also offers support, advice and inservice training to teachers, and resources for mathematics clubs. The NRICH website can be found at http://nrich.maths.org.uk/<br/><br/>2. Internal evaluations of the project, carried out in 1997 and 1998, suggested that an increasing number of people were accessing the NRICH project website. The evaluations also indicated that teachers using the NRICH materials were generally satisfied with the type of problems presented, and that pupils who worked on the problems developed a richer view of mathematics. <br/><br/>3. The objectives of the external evaluation were to assess how the use of the NRICH website facilities enhances the mathematical development of children who have the potential to go on to study mathematical subjects at university, how the features of the website are used by teachers to help meet the special educational needs of exceptionally able children in mathematics, and the particular contribution of Information Communications Technology to the above. These objectives were derived from the aims of the NRICH project.<br/><br/>4. The evaluation design incorporated a range of methods to provide data on the evaluation objectives. The various elements of the evaluation were an analysis of the responses to questionnaires completed by pupils, teachers, and other interested parties (such as parents) who access the NRICH website, a critical review of the NRICH website, together with selected case studies of school, classroom and pupil use of the NRICH project facilities. <br/><br/>5. Analysis of questionnaires completed by 199 pupils, 450 teachers, and 67 ‘friends of NRICH’ (such as parents) revealed that most NRICH users lived in England. This was particularly true of teachers. Over two-thirds of the pupils using NRICH were boys. Approximately the same proportion was white. A large proportion of users accessed NRICH at home. The majority of teachers worked in the state sector (both primary and secondary); ten percent were from private schools. The majority of users of all types were relatively new to NRICH, having been accessing the website for six months or less. The most frequent reason for accessing the NRICH website was to use it as a source of interesting mathematical problems. Most users were not registered with NRICH (a no-fee option open to all). The NRICH site was complimented by all categories of user as providing interesting problems, being attractively presented and generally easy to navigate. <br/><br/>6. The NRICH website was judged by the evaluation team to score highly on each of the website evaluation criteria. The new design of the site, launched in July 1999, was judged to be attractive, functional, easy to navigate, and contain high-quality materials. NRICH compared very favourably with other sites that provide mathematical puzzles, games and problems, and/or an answering service. The NRICH server statistics showed an increase in accesses to the site which was likely to be the result of more people accessing the NRICH site more often.<br/><br/>7. In each of the three case study schools, at least one teacher made regular and often frequent use of the NRICH website, though none made use of the wider NRICH facilities available to registered teachers. NRICH was mainly used a source of interesting mathematical problems. Pupil usage of NRICH in the schools was much more varied. Only a very few pupils were aware of NRICH and had accessed the site themselves. While there was some evidence of impact on more able pupils, none of the teachers were able to quantify this impact but all praised NRICH as a very valuable resource.<br/><br/>8. The three selected case profiles of pupil usage of NRICH revealed that these particular pupils accessed NRICH no more than once a month. All found the ‘one-to-one’ facility, where they could pose questions to University students, helpful and informative. Such exchanges often left the pupils wanting to know more, a situation the pupils viewed as positive. While few of the exchanges were related to the mathematical problems provided on the NRICH site, all these pupils valued the opportunity of being able to ask questions and receive replies.<br/><br/>9. The main impact of NRICH on the more able pupils was in terms of helping them to gain a wider appreciation of mathematics and raising the profile of mathematics as a subject that could be interesting enough to pursue either within or outside school or for further study. Quantifying this impact was beyond the scope of this evaluation. Teachers mostly accessed NRICH to find problems to use in their teaching. The teachers used a variety of approaches to meet the needs of their more able pupils. Some used the NRICH problems with groups of more able children withdrawn from their regular classrooms. Some teachers used NRICH problems as extension material once regular classwork was complete. For some, NRICH was one resource amongst many. Only a few organised an extra-curricular mathematics club based solely around NRICH. The contribution of information communications technology (ICT) to both the enhancement of pupils’ mathematical development and to how teachers made use of the NRICH facilities was associated with the functionality and accessibility of the NRICH site. The interaction that was possible through using ICT was seen as a particular advantage of the NRICH project

Topics: L1, LB, LB2361
Publisher: University of Southampton
Year: 1999
OAI identifier: oai:eprints.soton.ac.uk:11252
Provided by: e-Prints Soton

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