USF: Middle School math students test better using new study technique

"Interleaving" focuses on memory, problem solving

TAMPA - "We're going to do this review," said math teacher Jen DeMik.

In Mrs. DeMik's Liberty Middle School classroom the math homework and tests threw 7th graders off balance at first. 

"We won't forget it. It will stick in our minds," said Giulia Falabella, adding "I was not sure about it at first."

"It does jumble stuff together but you know math builds, and you know, what they did today they had to have been able to do what they did three months ago in order to do today," said DeMik.   

Students told their teacher the math problems she put on tests and homework were old, from months ago.

"I'm really bad with remembering the stuff that we learned in the very beginning of the year," explained Falabella.

And that's the reason, a new technique called "interleaving" is working so well here.

"They would have a little bit of everything on the homework so you would always refresh your mind," said 8th grade student Marigny Duga.

The idea is to test students' memories so they're not just tested in Chapter 3, but also Chapters 2 and  1 so it makes the material harder to forget.

University of South Florida professors studied the method that encourages thinking, remembering, problem solving instead of simply practicing the same type of problems over and over again.

"After it we improved a lot," said Falabella.

What USF researchers found is the 7th graders performed better on tests and didn't have to cram.

"It helped a lot because you spent less time studying for tests because you were kind of studying as you were doing homework," said Falabella.

Mrs. DeMik says the skills her students learned will help them in high school and they also make 7th grade math class much more interesting.

"Doing a worksheet of five or ten or twenty of the same thing every night is just simply boring and a lot of kids think math is boring to begin with so if we can challenge their brain to go back and think a little more, and they find it fun, I'm all for it," she said.


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