Education news

New learning tool can boost girls in ‘stem' subjects

Pupils from St Louise's in west Belfast are among those using Izak9 to stimulate mathematical thinking

GENDER imbalance in `stem' course uptake may be tackled by employing a new learning resource developed in Ireland, according to cross-border research.

Academics from Trinity College Dublin and Queen's University Belfast undertook a joint project exploring how to improve first year post-primary girls' relationships with maths.

The study was motivated by the gender imbalance in the uptake of science, technology, engineering and maths courses and assessments that found girls generally did worse than boys in mathematics.

In addition, there is evidence that girls' attitudes to maths tend to deteriorate after transfer to secondary education.

The research was conducted by Dr Ian Cantley from Queen's and Dr Mark Prendergast from Trinity. They found that using the Izak9 resource, which encourages pupil interaction, resulted in a "significant" increase in girls' enjoyment of the subject both in the north and Republic.

Child-centred pedagogical strategies, such as those involving Izak9 in classrooms, appeared to improve girls' attitudes. The researchers said the design of Izak9 "epitomises core tenets of feminist mathematical pedagogy" and they suggested that such child-centred approaches to teaching maths could help to offset gender bias in stem participation.

Izak9 was invented by Franz Schlindwein, a former secondary school head of maths from Derry. It consists of 27 cubes - with different combinations of colour, number and shape. It is designed to stimulate mathematical thinking and interaction among primary or secondary pupils with the help of animated on-screen characters.

Dr Cantley said the results of the evaluation confirmed that use of Izak9 appeared to improve girls' interest in and enjoyment of maths.

"Our findings, which were consistent in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, suggest that a larger scale study is warranted to investigate optimal modes of using Izak9 to capitalise on its potential to make mathematics more engaging for pupils," he said.

Dr Prendergast added: "This research provided a great opportunity for our pre-service mathematics teachers to incorporate an innovative concrete resource into their teaching. Izak9 proved to be very popular with students and for our pre-service teachers it highlighted the importance of using a broad range of teaching methods and manipulatives in the classroom to aid learning and increase enjoyment of mathematics."

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