Increasing Basic Math Skills to Improve Solving Word Problems for Seventh Graders

Anne Oltman Fall 2012 University of Colorado Denver

Introduction and Problem Statement
Keller Middle School* (KMS) hosts sixth through eighth grade students. KMS traditionally has had low standardized test scores and a low graduation rate. Many students enter middle school math classes without knowing multiple concepts from their elementary math classes. Also, over half the students do not read at grade level and the majority of students are English Language Learners (English is not their primary language). As a seventh grade math teacher at Keller Middle School, I realize the importance of a student’s ability to recall material he/she had previously learned. I am on the math committee in my district and we are always working to develop critical thinking skills in our students. It is my fourth year teaching and the students that remember concepts from their elementary years tend to have better-developed critical thinking skills and are able to solve more real world math problems. We are trying to find a way to help students remember content they previously learned without taking away too much time from grade level instruction. Our intervention to help solve this problem is implementing the first step of “The Five Easy Steps to a Balanced Math Program.” Having taught at this school for the past three years, I inevitably brought some bias to this research. In the past, I had tried giving students multiple practice problems of the same skill and they still did not remember the steps. Even though this method is different than what I had tried, I was still skeptical. Also, this does not provide much real world application (of which I am a strong believer). Throughout my research, I was constantly aware of any potential bias so it had little effect on my research.

Purpose and Intended Audience
The purpose of this research was to figure out if using the first step of “The Five Easy Steps to a Balanced Math Program” helped 7th grade students retain concepts learned in their elementary years in order to apply those skills to real world math problems. The first step includes students solving a daily warm up consisting of six problems. The six problems are divided into categories: data, geometry, percentages, number sense, fractions, and decimals. These categories can change as needed; however, they did not change during my research. For two weeks, the question in each category was similar every day. For example, in the data category, students answered questions daily about line graphs for two weeks. Students had ten minutes to complete the problems and then we spent five minutes going over the questions and answers. At the end of the two weeks, students took a quiz with questions taken from those they had completed for the past two weeks. Our school is currently only implementing the first step of the five step program. Currently, students are entering high school a few grade levels below where they should be in math. This makes higher math classes more difficult to pass and instead of trying to get caught up, they get frustrated and stop trying. This means students miss out on learning basic math skills that will help them in all areas of life.

*For privacy reasons, some names have been changed.

The intended audience of this report will include many people in my district: the math committee, principals, and other math teachers. This research will help my district decide if this program should continue to be implemented in middle school math classrooms. It will also be read by peers in my research class, my professor, and the portfolio reviewers at the University of Colorado Denver.

Research Questions
The purpose of this research was to figure out if using the first step of “The Five Easy Steps to a Balanced Math Program” will help 7th grade students retain concepts learned in their elementary years. I expected to answer the following questions: 1. How will students’ performance solving real world problems be affected by their participation in the first step of “The Five Easy Steps to a Balanced Math Program?" 2. To what extent will the students’ retention of previously learned math concepts increase by participating in the first step of "The Five Easy Steps to a Balanced Math Program?" I originally had a third research question: “To what extent will the students’ speed at solving word problems in math class be affected by participating in the first step of ‘The Five Easy Steps to a Balanced Math Approach?’ After talking with math teachers at a professional development, I decided the absolute pace at which students solve word problems is not necessarily a good metric to be compared with their peers. Not only do students learn differently, they solve problems at different paces. If two students solve a math problem correctly, it does not matter if one student took twice as long to get the right answer. Therefore, I decided to remove that question from my research.

Context of Study
KMS opened in the early 1950s. Originally, it had seventh through ninth grade students. It was not until the late 1970s that it changed to sixth through eighth grade. KMS is a Title I school and is part of a Title I district. The entire school qualifies for free or reduced lunch. Students are also served breakfast in the classroom and, if they are part of the Boys and Girls Club, can receive dinner as well. KMS offers a gifted and talented program and bilingual education. There are over 600 students at KMS with an ethnic distribution as follows: 0% Asian, 6.67% African American, 77.9% Hispanic, 1.14% Native American, and 13.9% Caucasian. As of 2010, according to the U.S. Census, 44,913 people live in the city in which KMS resides; 19.8% of the people 25 or older have bachelor’s degrees and the median household income is $56,635. In 2012, the students took the state standardized test. 33% of students were proficient in math, 38.3% in reading, and 27.3% in writing. According to the Great Schools Rating, KMS receives a two on a scale of ten. The graduation rate for students on time and in four years is about 65%.

The teacher turnover rate at KMS is approximately 50% each year. The district is known as being one of the toughest to work for in the area and many teachers avoid applying to the district. The mean age of the staff at KMS is 31 and the average amount of experience is five years. There are many students that have had over half of their teachers be first year teachers. Students at KMS live in a community where there is not a high value put on education.

Literature Review
I conducted a literature review because teachers need to know what research says are successful instructional strategies for teaching students to solve word problems. They also need to know what the effects are of being able to utilize previously learned math concepts in problem solving. A literature review provided research to help answer the question: How will students’ performance solving real world problems be affected by their participation in the first step of “The Five Easy Steps to a Balanced Math Approach?” Literature Review Questions 1. What are the best methods to help students learn how to solve word problems in math? a. How important is it that students are taught strategies to solve word problems? b. How important is it that students know their basic math facts for them to correctly solve word problems? 2. To what extent does the process of having students complete repeated practice problems help them retain information on previously learned material? Literature Search Procedures My initial search began with the Auraria Library with key terms such as “solving math word problems + middle school students” and “importance of middle school students knowing basic math facts.” I got frustrated because I did not find anything as specific as what I was hoping to locate and nothing was directly related to the research I planned on completing. So I tried using Google Scholar (not through Auraria Library), but the articles were only available through purchase. After I watched a live session held by my professor and read chapter 3 from Gary Thomas, I realized I needed to change my key terms. I wanted to stay specific with basic facts and word problems but realized the literature will not be exactly like the research I planned on completing. I also found out that I could get free articles from Google Scholar if I went through the Auraria Library. I continued my search by changing my key terms to “math word problems” and “instructional strategies word problems.” I used the Auraria Library and Google Scholar to find all my articles. I found quite a few articles that researched the benefits of teaching various problem solving strategies to help students solve word problems. I went through about the first 500 articles, reading titles and abstracts to choose ones I wanted to read more in depth. After reading about eight more in depth, I chose four to fully peruse. Of those four, I used three.

I realized all the research I was finding dealt with teaching problem solving strategies as opposed to students knowing their basic facts to help them solve word problems. So I entered in the key terms “basic math skills and word problems,” “math drills,” and “practicing math facts.” I was only able to find two articles that fit what I was looking for. Both articles were studies done on elementary students. Finally, I wanted to find some research based on students doing repeated problems to retain basic facts. There was not nearly as much research on this as I thought there would be. I found two articles which both involved elementary students. Literature Review Findings Teaching Problem Solving Strategies At every grade level in math, students are given word problems to solve. In response to the study done by Ku, “This finding echoes Marshall’s research (1995) that stated that word problems are strongly disliked by both children and adults because they find the problems are difficult to solve even when they have adequate computational skills” (Ku, Harter, Liu, Thompson, & Cheng, 2004, p.1208). Not only do students dislike world problems, they “simply grab for numbers rather than trying to understand the nature of the problems that they are being asked to solve” (Jitendra & Kameenui, 1993, p.305). Students need strategies to help them approach word problems so they do not feel as intimated by them. In a study conducted by Cohen and Stover, they looked at teaching specific strategies for certain word problems. This study explicitly taught groups of middle school students how to use one of the following three strategies: create a diagram, cross off extraneous information, and order the numbers in an appropriate order. These strategies were chosen based off of gifted and talented sixth and eighth grade students rewriting math problems to be simpler. Similarly, research done by Jitendra and Kameenul focused on teaching strategies such as drawing a picture, questioning, and crossing off extraneous information. However, this research focused more on the use of dynamic assessment to help guide students in their problem solving and the strategies were chosen by the teachers. Both studies found the use of problem solving strategies increased student performance on math word problems. These strategies are one resource for students to draw upon when solving a word problem. Additionally, research was done on the effects of a problem solving strategy that personalized word problems to the individual. “According to Mayer (1984), personalization seems to increase the meaningfulness or external connectedness of the problem text with existing schemata” (Ku, Harter, Liu, Thompson, & Cheng, 2004, p.1196). Like the other two research studies on problem solving strategies, participants that had personalized word problems outscored the students that did not. Research shows that teaching strategies helps increase students’ ability to correctly solve word problems. Teaching Basic Facts with Repetition Woodward states, “Without the ability to retrieve facts directly or automatically, students are likely to experience a high cognitive load as they perform a range of complex tasks” (2006, p.269). The belief behind research done with automaticity of basic facts deals with students

being able to focus on the more difficult parts of a problem; computation should be the easy part. Woodward’s research found that students who were taught the process behind multiplication incorporated with timed tests performed better on the timed tests than students who were just instructed to memorize the facts. Likewise, research proved that a computer program that had students repeatedly practice addition facts increased students’ automaticity of being able to recall addition facts. Students who are able to have these facts memorized will be able to spend more time concentrating on the steps of more advanced math. They will not need to worry about counting on their fingers or doing repeated addition to figure out a basic fact. “The Rasch analyses suggest that the observed improvements in solving word problems should be attributed to gains in computation skills” (Schoppek & Tulis, 2010, p.247). These studies showed that repeated practice helped students learn their basic math facts. Teaching Basic Facts and Problem Solving Strategies Research has proven the need for problem solving strategies and for learning basic facts. Students need to have problem solving strategies to know what the problem is asking but they also need to compute correctly to get the right answer. Research done by Powell, Fuchs, and Fuchs showed that students did just as well on a computational test if they had only computational instruction compared to integrated instruction of computation skills and strategies for solving word problems (2010). This research shows that students are able to succeed with an integrated approach. An integrated approach allows students to learn strategies to set up the correct problem and to learn their basic skills to compute the right answer. Additionally, research done on a computer program called Merlin’s Math Mill helped determine which types of problems were in a student’s associative phase. This phase is where students know the steps to solve problems but need more practice to get to automaticity. Once again, this research showed improvement in students’ word problem solving abilities based upon instruction with basic skills and word problem strategies (Schoppek & Tulis, 2010). These studies show the benefit of incorporating instruction of basic facts with problem solving strategies to improve word problem solving. Quality of Literature Each article followed high standards of conducting and reporting research. All the studies I read gave pretests and post-tests to show the difference in the knowledge of each student after the implementation of instruction. Also, most of the articles I read had a control group with which the research group was compared. The articles all gave background, methods used, participants, data collection procedures, and results. Based on the specifics given in each research article I read, I trusted the stated facts of what I was reading. However, I did not trust the reliability and/or repeatability of the articles. Each article had parts that could have been expanded on to make the research more reliable. The articles did not give statistics on the participants’ reading abilities, how many of the participants were English Language Learners, or the type of math instruction they previously had.

Each of these articles had research completed on only one or two grades of students. A few of the articles could only be done on certain grades because of the skills being researched. However, the studies that were done on teaching strategies to solve word problems could have been done on multiple grades. They could have looked at whether these strategies would work across multiple grade levels. None of these studies looked at the long term effects of the instruction. The studies did not look to see whether students retained the knowledge of the basic facts or if they were able to use the problem solving strategies a year or two after learning them. Also, the studies often had very small sample sizes (between 6 and 71 participants). Most of the research was completed at the elementary level. Also, the majority of the research focused on teaching strategies. Research proves students must be able to decode the word problem and know what it is asking in order to set up the problem. However, students also need to get the problem correct. The research I found that incorporated strategies and knowing basic facts was only done with very basic facts such as addition, subtraction, and single digit multiplication. However, students must learn math concepts beyond these very basic facts. Gap in Literature I was able to find enough literature during my search but there was definitely a gap where my action research provides some new findings. My research addresses the question: If middle school students have repeated practice with skills not mastered in previous grades, will they retain the skills to complete those types of problems and be able to correctly solve more word problems? Middle school math becomes much more difficult for students because they learn more new, advanced concepts and it becomes more abstract. For example, in middle school, students begin learning surface area, volume, and solving algebraic equations. “. . . practicing skills in order to automatize them is an important condition for reducing working memory load, which in turn is necessary for the construction of new conceptual knowledge” (Schoppek & Tulis, 2010, p.239). My research looked at whether students were able to focus more of their brain power on the newly learned concepts which they are asked to do in word problems if they were comfortable with previously learned material. Word problems become more difficult in each grade level with the way they are worded and by the math needed to solve them. The earlier students are able to grasp the ability to correctly solve word problems, the better off they will be in higher math classes. My research gives insight to secondary teachers on which instructional strategies are best to help their students improve their retention of previously learned material and with solving word problems.

Methods
I followed the methods of design inquiry research. The following describes the steps I took to collect and analyze data in order to answer my research questions.

Site Selection and Sampling I conducted all of my research at KMS because it is the school where I currently work. I analyzed the work of 100 seventh grade students. I chose my participants as the students I currently have because I am presently impacting their lives. I also included three other seventh grade math teachers from my district. I chose these teachers because they are the same grade level and implementing the same program in a similar environment. Data Collection Methods In order to collect sufficient data, I conducted teacher questionnaires, gave surveys to all my students, collected students’ scores on bi-weekly warm up quizzes, and collected students’ scores on two word problem quizzes. I decided on teacher questionnaires rather than interviews because that is what my participants decided they wanted to do. Also, I had planned on giving four word problem quizzes. I changed that to only two. I had a word problem quiz the week after the first warm up quiz and then one more a week before the fourth warm up quiz. I decided to do this because it seemed like my students were being quizzed daily and they were missing too much instruction time. Teacher Questionnaires I conducted teacher questionnaires with three other seventh grade math teachers in my district. “Interviews provide opportunities for participants to describe the situation in their own terms” (Stringer, 2007, p.69). Even though I did not ask the questions in an interview format, I believe a questionnaire provided the same opportunities to participants. The questionnaires gave me insight to how their students were responding to the first step of “The Five Easy Steps to a Balanced Math Program.” I realized teachers are very busy and I want to respect their time. For my participants, that meant filling out a questionnaire was best. I asked nine questions that required my colleagues to state their opinion based on observations of their students. Each teacher completed a consent form (found in appendix A) indicating their willingness to participate in the study. The questionnaire that each teacher filled out is in appendix C. Surveys I gave students surveys. The survey can be found in appendix B. I decided on surveys instead of interviews or focus groups because I wanted to hear thoughts from all my students. Each student is unique and learns differently. Each student provided a different perspective on their participation in the first step of “The Five Easy Steps to a Balanced Math Program.”

Quizzes Students were given bi-weekly warm up quizzes on questions similar to the questions on their daily warm ups. I tracked each student’s scores by logging them in a spreadsheet (example in appendix D). The students were given two word problem quizzes. One was administered a week after the first warm up quiz and the other was given a week before the last warm up quiz. Data Analysis Procedures I analyzed the teacher questionnaires using a qualitative approach. First, I created an Excel table for each question with three columns (see appendix E): teacher (represented by a letter), their response, and themes. For each question, I read the responses and made a list of all the themes. For most questions I had quite a long list of themes and had to think about how to collapse some of them. For example, one question had the themes of giving up, frustrated because of computation mistakes, and took students too long. So I collapsed all of those themes into lacking number sense. Then I gave each theme a different color and highlighted that theme within each response. Most responses had multiple themes within them and the color coding helped me see the themes. For the three open-ended questions on the student survey, I used a similar approach as I used for the teacher questionnaire. However, since I had 92 surveys to go through, I did not create an Excel sheet of each response. For each question, I read all the responses and made a list of the themes. Then I went back through the surveys and made a mark for each response that fit the theme. If a response had multiple themes I made a mark for each theme represented. For the eight quantitative questions on the survey, I counted the number of “yes” responses and “no” responses and created circle graphs. See appendix F. I quantitatively analyzed the quiz results. The warm up quizzes focused on six skills but I decided to analyze three of the skills: add/subtract decimals, long division, and add/subtract fractions. Each warm up quiz had two questions for each skill. For each quiz, I recorded which questions students answered correctly. The word problem quizzes were given a week after the first warm up quiz and a week before the fourth warm up quiz. The warm up quiz had three questions on it, one question for each skill. I recorded which questions each student answered correctly.

Schedule
Milestone Complete draft of Action Research Proposal Complete final Action Research Proposal Create interview questions for teachers Create surveys for students Conduct interviews Analyze interviews Distribute surveys Analyze surveys Completed by September 18th September 22nd October 19th October 25th October 26th November 1st

All quiz data must be recorded Analyze quiz data Complete draft of data analysis Complete draft of final action research report Complete final action research report Checks for Rigor

November 2nd November 6th November 27th December 1st

“Rigor in action research is based on checks to ensure that the outcomes of research are trustworthy—that they do not merely reflect the particular perspectives, biases, or worldview of the researcher…” (Stringer, 2007, p.57). In addition to the questionnaire I had three 7th grade math teachers fill out, I made sure the research was credible by talking with them on three separate occasions at professional development sessions. I also gave students an opportunity to voice their opinions on the use of math warm ups. If students had questions, I asked them to come in at lunch to discuss them. My data is transferable because I explained the “Five Steps to a Balanced Math Program” in my paper and I made sure to include the teachers’ reasons as to why or why not this helped students. My data is also more transferable because it was part of my master’s degree class where my classmates and peers discussed and provided feedback with each part of my research project. My literature review will help people find reliability within my research. To ensure the dependability and conformability, I showed the results of my analysis to students. Also, I created graphs based upon their answers to the survey questions as well as graphs that represent their quiz data as a whole.

Findings
How will students’ performance solving real world problems be affected by their participation in the first step of “The Five Easy Steps to a Balanced Math Program?" By comparing the results of quiz 1 to the results of quiz 2, I was able to see there was an increase of students solving word problems correctly after they participated in “The Five Easy Steps to a Balanced Math Program.” The percentage of students solving two to three word problems correctly increased by 13% from the first word problem quiz to the second. The bar graph below compares the percentage of students answering zero, one, two, or three word problems correctly on quiz 1 and quiz 2. The graph shows that the number of students that answered zero word problems correctly decreased by 5% from quiz 1 to quiz 2. It also shows that the number of students that answered three word problems correctly increased by 10% from quiz 1 to quiz 2.

When looking closely at which students improved on solving more word problems correctly, I noticed it was mostly my higher students. In response to the question on the teacher questionnaire, “Do you think this program helps students correctly solve more real world problems? Why or why not?” one teacher said, “Yes, for students who can dissect the problem enough to know what they need to do to solve the problem (what strategy or steps to use).” She believes if students are able to correctly set the problem up, having better computation skills will help the student. In response to the same question, another teacher said, “I’ve been having decent success with transferring the situations we use in the problems to other situations in life that the kids can apply to their lives.” This teacher has been able to take the skill-based problems and apply them to real life situations so students can see the purpose of knowing these skills. This connection helps students build their own strategies for solving word problems. The research also shows that using this program is not enough to help students improve solving world problems. The bar graph shows that there are 65 % of students getting zero or only one word problem correct. This is a very large percentage of students that are not improving their word solving ability. The question, “What difficulties do your students face when they are solving real world story problems?” was asked on the teacher questionnaire. All three teachers listed knowing what the problem is asking. One teacher wrote, “The students have a difficult time knowing what information is important and what they need to do to solve the problems.”

The word problem results and teacher responses show that this program does not reach all students and there are still many students struggling with solving word problems. However the data also shows that some students did improve while participating in this program.

To what extent will the students’ retention of previously learned math concepts increase by participating in the first step of "The Five Easy Steps to a Balanced Math Program?"

This question can be answered by looking at the student surveys, warm up quiz data, and teacher questionnaires. The students were given a survey a week before the fourth warm up quiz. The students were asked to answer yes or no to if they believed they improved adding/subtracting decimals, long division, and adding/subtracting fractions. The surveys showed 100% of students believed they improved in at least one of these areas. On each warm up quiz, students were given two questions for each of the following skills: adding/subtracting decimals, long division, and adding/subtracting fractions.

Below is a circle graph that shows the percentage of students who believe they improved adding/subtracting decimals. On the survey, I separated the questions into adding and subtracting but for the circle graph I found the average from those two responses. The graph shows that 88% of students said yes and 12% said no. The bar graph shows the comparison of students correctly answering zero, one, and two questions for adding/subtracting decimals for quiz one and quiz four. Students answering zero questions correctly decreased by 18% and students answering two questions correct increased by 27%.

Looking at both of these graphs, it shows that students believe they improved and, based on the quiz results, many actually did. On the survey, many students explained the reason they believe they improved was because they were able to practice lining up the decimals daily. One student said, “Yes, because I learned you have to line up the decimals and [I am now] starting to get my answers right.” However, the graphs also show that more students believe they improved than actually did according to the fourth warm up quiz. Also, not all students believe they improved. One student said on the survey, “Because it is kind of confusing subtracting decimals [and] knowing what to do with the decimal.”

The graphs below show the results from the survey and the data quizzes for adding/subtracting fractions. There were similar results to adding/subtracting decimals. For this skill, 22% of students believed they did not improve and 78% of students believed they did improve. Students answering zero questions correctly decreased by 22% and students answering two questions correct increased by 36%.

The graphs below show the results from the survey and the data quizzes for long division. Students answering zero questions correctly decreased by 28% and students answering two questions correct increased by 21%.

These graphs show that many students believe the warm ups are helping them with these skills and the quiz results back up those beliefs. The research also shows that the program did not help all students improve their skills in these three areas because for each skill there were at least 7% of students without any correct answers. The teachers were able to provide some insight on the questionnaires as to why this might be. One teacher said, “Most of the students get to work quickly on the math review when they come to class. The students that struggle with math need more prompting and help in starting their review.” This teacher pointed out that not all students benefit from this math review. They have always struggled in math and these students may not benefit from practicing the same skill in the same way over and over. Another teacher had a similar belief that some

students are not motivated to practice the same problems over and over. She said, “Most kids who do not fully understand concepts (specifically, decimals and fractions) and struggle to remember the rules of these operations/concepts seem to continue to get the problems wrong and most don’t appear to want to change that outcome. There’s about 30% of my kids who on problems like top dog division, fractions, and decimals will not even start the problem until I give them time to work together or I’m standing next to them coaching or pressuring.” These quotes show that teachers are still not convinced this program is the best for all students. Even if this program does not help every individual, the warm up quizzes show that many students increased their retention of basic math skills by their participation in “The Five Easy Steps to a Balanced Math Program.” These graphs show that for each skill, the percentage of students answering zero questions decreased by at least 18% between the first and fourth quizzes. The graphs also show the number of students answering two questions correct increased by at least 21% between the first and fourth quizzes. Comparison of the Research to the Literature Review The literature review showed students improved on solving word problems if they knew some problem solving strategies to use. In response to the study done by Ku, “This finding echoes Marshall’s research (1995) that stated that word problems are strongly disliked by both children and adults because they find the problems are difficult to solve even when they have adequate computational skills” (Ku, Harter, Liu, Thompson, & Cheng, 2004, p.1208). The research findings support this because most of the students that increased their word problem solving were my higher students. These are the students who I know have more mathematical thinking and problem solving strategies to pull from. The literature review also discussed that just teaching computational skills will help students solve word problems. “The Rasch analyses suggest that the observed improvements in solving word problems should be attributed to gains in computation skills” (Schoppek & Tulis, 2010, p.247). The research shows students improved solving word problems based on just computational instruction. However, the research only shows 13% of students increasing from getting zero or one problems right to correctly solving two or three problems. This is a small percentage of students that I do not believe contributes to the idea that just teaching computational skills will improve correctly solving word problems. A difference between the findings in the literature review and the research findings deals with students remembering basic math facts from repetition. Woodward’s research found that students who were taught the process behind multiplication incorporated with timed tests perform better on the timed tests than students just instructed to memorize the facts (2006). My students were taught the process behind each of these basic skills in elementary school and in 6th grade. However, after repetition of practicing these skills, 100% of the students believed they improved on at least one of the skills. Another important difference is that this research was conducted at a middle school rather than an elementary school. Limitations

The most obvious limitation was time. I was only able to collect data on four warm up quizzes and two word problem quizzes. The time limitation did not allow my research to show the lasting impact of the math warm ups. I only gave two word problem quizzes because my students were being tested so often and missing too much instruction time. Time also limited me to collecting data on a smaller sample of students. Another limitation was students moving in and out of my district. I decided to not use the data of any of the students that moved out of the district before the fourth warm up quiz because I would not have final data on them. I did decide to use students that moved to my district in the middle of my research because I would have baseline and final data for them. One more limitation was with the word problems. I chose the word problems from a Colorado Student Assessment Program prep book but I did not have input from other teachers on whether these were the best word problems for my research. Even with the limitations, my research is still valuable because it shows baseline and final data for 96 students. This research was done in a Title I school where 100% of students receive free and reduced lunch and only 34% of the students were proficient on last year’s Transitional Colorado Assessment Program (TCAP). My research was conducted on a very specific population and will be helpful to others working with a similar demographic set. My research is valuable to all types of schools because the strategies used to help lower achieving students can also help higher achieving students.

Implications for Practice
The research showed a positive impact on students because for each skill, the percentage of students answering zero questions decreased by at least 18% between the first and fourth warm up quizzes. The instruction time spent on this was fruitful for some students. However, this type of practice does not work with all students and another intervention would need to be put in place to reach those students. Another positive impact is students’ confidence in solving problems involving long division, adding/subtracting fractions, and adding/subtracting decimals. In the survey I gave students, 100% of students believed they improved in at least one of these skills. Along the same lines, improving students’ basic math skills helps students correctly answer more word problems if they know problem solving strategies. The research showed this program helps students and its use should continue. However, I believe something needs to change because it is not helping every student. During the 10 minutes students work on this program, teachers could pull a small group to help the students who are still struggling. The research has shown to help some of my students but not all of them. More research is needed to find out the best way to help students who are still struggling with knowing basic math skills. Also, there is a need for more research to be completed on how to help students incorporate basic math skills with problem solving strategies to solve word problems. In addition, the same research I have completed should be continued to the end of the school year. It is important to know whether the first step of “The Five Easy Steps to a Balanced Math Approach” helps students retain this information for a long period of time.

Conclusion
The research responds to the gap in the literature because it showed how middle school students were affected by receiving repeated practice of basic math. The research showed that some students improved their computation skills and ability to solve word problems by their participation in the first step of “The Five Easy Steps to a Balanced Math Program.” It also showed that not all students improved in both areas because the number of students solving two to three word problems correctly only increased by 13% from the first to the fourth word problem quizzes. Jitendra and Kameenui stated, “students simply grab for numbers rather than trying to understand the nature of the problems that they are being asked to solve” (1993, p.305). So the first step of “The Five Easy Steps to a Balanced Math Program” cannot be the only curriculum implemented into a classroom to help students retain basic math skills and solve word problems correctly. Students in my classroom rarely receive math instruction anywhere but my room. Their parents are unable to help them at home because they may be working or do not themselves understand seventh grade math. This means it is crucial I use every minute to help my students become better mathematicians. Finding programs that are successful will help my students be more successful in life. “The Five Easy Steps to a Balanced Math Program” has shown improvement in some of my students which means it has been beneficial. However, it is not the only tool that my students need to be successful in math.

References Jitendra, A. K., & Kameenui, E. J. (1993). An Exploratory Study of Dynamic Assessment Involving Two Instructional Strategies on Experts and Novices' Performance in Solving PartWhole Mathematical Word Problems. Assessment for Effective Intervention, 305-321. Jones, T. W. (2011). A Comparative Study of Student Math Skills: Perceptions, Validation, and Recommendations. Decision Sciences Journal of Innovative Education, 379-393. Ku, H.-Y., Harter, C. A., Liu, P.-L., Thompson, L., & Cheng, Y.-C. (2004). The effects of indvidually personalized computer-based instructional program on solving mathematics problems. Computers in Human Behavior, 1196-1209. Powell, S. R., Fuchs, L. S., & Fuchs, D. (2010). Emedding Number-Combinations Practice Within Word-Problem Tutoring. Intervention in School and Clinic, 22-29. Schnorr, J. M. (1989). Practicing Math Facts on the Computer. Teacher Education and Special Education: The Journal of the Teacher Education Division of the Council for Exceptional Children, 65-69. Schoppek, W., & Tulis, M. (2010). Enhancing Arithmetic and Word-Problem Solving Skills Efficiently by Individualized Computer-Assisted Practice. The Journal of Education Research, 239-251. Stringer, E. T. (2007). Action Research (3rd ed). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc. Cohen, S. A., & Stover, G. (1981). Effects of Teaching Sixth-Grade Students to Modify Format Variables of Math Word Problems. International Reading Association, 175-200. Woodward, J. (2006). Developed Automaticity in Multiplication Facts: Integrating Strategy Instruction with Timed Practice Drills. Learning Disability Quarterly, 269-289.

Appendix A: Teacher Consent
Teacher Consent Saturday, June 15, 2013 Dear _______________________, I am conducting some action research on the first step of the “Five Steps to a Balanced Math Approach.” This research is a requirement for one of the graduate courses in which I have enrolled. I am enrolled in this course and conducting this research so I can continue to help our students solve real world math problems. If you decide to participate in this study, you will be asked to participate in a one-on-one interview that will take around 15 minutes. There are no right or wrong answers. Your individual answers to the questions will not be identified or published. I am not collecting names. You may discontinue your participation in this study at any time without penalty. Please complete the form below to indicate your willingness to participate in the action research project. Thank you for your time. Anne Oltman

I grant my permission for the use of my ideas, work, or words in research. I understand that every good faith effort will be made to maintain confidentiality in any reports of this research. ___________________ (Name) ___________________ (Signature) ___________________ (Date)

Appendix B: Student Survey
Survey Questions (Read Aloud to Students) 1. Do you believe you have improved converting fractions to decimals? a. Yes b. No 2. Do you believe you have improved converting decimals to fractions? a. Yes b. No 3. Do you believe you have improved subtracting all types of fractions since completing the daily warm-ups? a. Yes b. No 4. Do you believe you have improved adding all types of fractions since completing the daily warm-ups? a. Yes b. No 5. Explain why you answered yes or no to question #4. 6. Do you believe you have improved multiplying decimals since completing the daily warm-ups? a. Yes b. No 7. Do you believe you have improved dividing decimals since completing the daily warmups? a. Yes b. No 8. Do you believe you have improved adding decimals since completing the daily warmups? a. Yes b. No 9. Do you believe you have improved subtracting decimals since completing the daily warm-ups? a. Yes b. No 10. Explain why you answered yes or no to question #9. 11. What part of solving a word problem is most difficult? a. b. c. d. Figuring out what the problem is asking Performing the basic math operations to solve it Choosing the correct method to solve it Reading the problem

12. Do you believe the daily math warm-ups have improved your ability to do well in math class? Why or why not?

Appendix C: Teacher Questionnaire
1. What difficulties do your students face when they are solving real world story problems? 2. How does it affect your students learning seventh grade math content when they do not remember concepts learned in previous years? 3. When we were introduced to the first step of the “Five Easy Steps to a Balanced Math Program,” what were your thoughts in regards to the affect it would have on students’ math ability? 4. Please describe your students’ behavior when they are working on the warm up problems. 5. Please describe your students’ behavior when you go over the answers to the warm up problems. 6. Do you think this program is helping students better retain previously learned material? Why or why not? 7. Do you think this program allows students to more quickly solve word problems? Why or why not? 8. Do you think this program helps students correctly solve more real world problems? Why or why not? 9. Will you continue using this program in your classroom? Why or why not?

Appendix D: Quiz Tracking Excel Spreadsheets
Spreadsheet for recording Warm Up Quiz scores. Each class and warm up quiz was filled out separately on one of these. Student Name Add/subtract Add/subtract Long Long Add/subtract Add/subtract decimals decimals Division Division fractions fractions

Spreadsheet for recording Word Problem quizzes. Student Name Add/subtract Long Add/subtract decimals Division fractions

Appendix E: Analyzing Teacher Questionnaire
1. What difficulties do your students face when they are solving real world story problems? Teach Response Theme er A The students have a difficult time knowing what Important information is important and what they need to Information do to solve the problems. Some of the students What problem is have difficulty reading the problem. asking them to do/choosing a strategy Reading problem B Figuring out what the problem is truly asking, what operations to do within the problem, occasionally what information is important and what is just filler. Important Information What problem is asking them to do/choosing a strategy Choosing the operations Important Information What problem is asking them to do/choosing a strategy Reading problem Choosing the operations

C

Two difficulties our students face are determining what the problem is asking them to do and choosing a strategy to use to solve (or lacking strategies to use). Students do not determine the question first to see which information is necessary for the problem. Often times they automatically think they take all numbers given in the problem and either add, subtract, multiply, or divide them, instead of truly thinking about the question and the best way to solve the problem. They do not have a toolbox of problem solving strategies that they can choose from. Another difficulties is not being able to accurately read the problem to get the meaning of the text.

Important Information What problem is asking them to do/choosing a strategy Reading problem

Choosing the operations

2. How does it affect your students learning seventh grade math content when they do not remember concepts learned in previous years? Teach Response Theme er A Many of my students do not have number sense Lacking number which is important when students are learning sense (stop/give seventh grade concepts. For example, they up—long time to need to use these skills when solving for solve— proportions, finding surface area and volume and computation solving equations. I need to go back and review mistakes) those skills for the students who don’t remember Instruction Time which takes time. B A good portion of my students can understand and grasp higher level/7th grade concepts but not knowing concepts or having basic computation skills from previous years either makes them stop/give up, take an incredibly long time to solve basic problems, or make computation mistakes which lead to wrong answers. Seventh grade content builds upon and is an extension of what students learn in previous years. When they lack concepts, I often have to take instruction time to re-teach the students what they have previously learned so that they have a basis for 7th grade concepts. This takes away classroom time from 7th grade standards, and often forces us to rush concepts that students need to have a lot of exposure to. Lacking number sense (stop/give up—long time to solve— computation mistakes)

C

Instruction Time

Lacking number sense (stop/give up—long time to solve— computation mistakes) Instruction Time

3. When we were introduced to the first step of the “Five Easy Steps to a Balanced Math Program,” what were your thoughts in regards to the affect it would have on students’ math ability? Teach Response Theme er

A

After I read about the Math Review, I was very excited and was hopeful that it would help the students retain the concepts they did not remember from the previous years. I thought it would be incredibly helpful; from my experience last year a lot of our students do struggle with retention, especially with basic rules (fractions, decimals). I thought having a time and space to work on these sorts of problems would give them the opportunity to recall those skills and master or re-master them. My hope was that it would improve their math ability because it is a review of previously learned concepts. It is designed as a way to incorporate spiral review into class to keep students thinking about lots of different concepts and keep them fresh in their minds.

Retain concepts Hopeful/excited/hel pful Retain concepts Hopeful/excited/hel pful

B

C

Retain concepts Hopeful/excited/hel pful

Retain concepts Hopeful/excited/hel pful 4. Please describe your students’ behavior when they are working on the warm up problems. Teach Response Theme er A Most of the students get to work quickly on the Start quickly and Math Review when they come to class. The motivated to students that struggle with math need more finish all prompting and help in starting their Review. But problems after a few days in the 2 week cycle, they are Struggling more apt to try the problems on their own since students need they have examples on how to solve the more prompting problems. B Most work well throughout the problems. They can get most done by themselves and then check answers and thoughts with neighbors. There are maybe 10 – 20% of kids who will not try anything because they’ve gotten them wrong for so long that they don’t give much effort when working on the same problems now. Start quickly and motivated to finish all problems Struggling students need more prompting Check Answers

C

There are a lot of different behaviors, which have changed throughout the year so far. In the beginning most students were talkative, but still answered all of the questions because a lot of the problems were very easy for them. After doing the math review for a few weeks, most started to get bored and I had a lot of students who had a difficult time completing their problems because they were talking too much, playing, daydreaming, etc. Now that we have been doing the math review for a few weeks, students have a variety of behaviors. Motivated students get the problems completed and were causing other problems, which is why we started doing challenge problems or encouraging students to read if they finished early. A majority of the students realized that it is impacting their grades and started trying all of the problems again (this was also the case when I pointed out these are 5th and 6th grade problems). Some students work when I am circling the room and stamping papers that are complete and other times are distracted or are being distracting (talking, playing, drawing, etc.). Students who have a difficult time focusing are typically talking or doing other things to avoid the work.

Start quickly and motivated to finish all problems Struggling students need more prompting Talkative

Start quickly and motivated to finish all problems Struggling students need more prompting Talkative Check Answers 5. Please describe your students’ behavior when you go over the answers to the warm up problems. Teach Response Theme er A We review the answers to the Math Review Students problems as a class. The students are demonstrating/expla involved by explaining the problems to the ining class or showing how to do the problems on Immediate response the Smart board. I usually ask the students (excitement, why?)

which problems they answered correctly and the students are excited when they are right. B Almost all of my students have an immediate reaction. I hear things like “I told you so,” “Oooooh, I get it now,” “I still don’t understand that,” “why are you doing it like that.” I ask students to explain the answers to the class. The student who gets to explain is very excited and wants to share. Most students are either trying to talk to neighbors, sitting quietly (day dreaming or drawing), or shout out the answer. All students check their work (not always when the problem is being explained), which is good, but causes other issues, such as students shouting out to ask why their answer is incorrect. Immediate response (excitement, why?)

C

Students demonstrating/expla ining Immediate response (excitement, why?) Talking to neighbors Checking work

Students demonstrating/expla ining Immediate response (excitement, why?) Talking to neighbors Checking work 6. Do you think this program is helping students better learned material? Why or why not? Teach Response er A Since we are continually reviewing the skills that the students struggle with and have a difficult time remembering, I feel this program is helping the students to be successful and have a positive experience with math. retain previously Theme Reviewing with repetition skills students struggle with Helps students be successful with math Reviewing with repetition skills students struggle with Helps students be successful

B

Yes and no. I think the extra practice really does help some students who are aware of their gaps in their math learning and want to fill them, but I’d say that is the minority of my kids. Most kids who do not fully understand concepts (decimals and fractions specifically) and struggle to

C

remember the rules of these operations/concepts seem to continue to get the problems wrong and most don’t appear to want to change that outcome. There’s about 30% of my kids who on problems like top dog division, fractions and decimals will not even start the problem until I give them time to work together or I’m standing next to them coaching or pressuring. I think so, but I think it is also too early to give a solid answer. I think the program helps because it is a spiral review of different concepts, but in a way that allows students to get repetition in solving problems (doing the same types of problems each day, but still mixed concepts). They know their scores and which problems they struggle with, and I ask them to set goals for their quizzes each week so they are working to remember the concepts. Tracking data, the percents of students getting problems correct has increased in each category. It has no impact on students who are not working and they think it is a time to play. I’m hesitant to say ‘yes’ though because the real question will be when we truly test them on a variety of different skills (for example all operations with mixed numbers) and not one specific skill (such as adding/subtracting mixed numbers).

with math Unmotivated students are not improving Not sure

Reviewing with repetition skills students struggle with Helps students be successful with math Unmotivated students are not improving Not sure

Reviewing with repetition skills students struggle with Helps students be successful with math Unmotivated students are not improving Not sure 7. Do you think this program allows students to more quickly solve word problems? Why or why not? Teach Response Theme er

A

I am not sure if this is helping students solve word problems more quickly since they struggle with how to start and set up the word problem. But we are working on this issue, also. After the students decide how to solve the problem, the students are remembering what they worked on in the Review and are able to solve the problems quicker. Yes and no again. I think it helps with computational skills on some level, especially those who see it as a tool to help them fill gaps, but I think a lot of our students’ problems with word problems is finding what the question is truly asking and how to manipulate the numbers in the problem to get that answer. I don’t believe the Math Review process helps that in any way. In theory, yes, because if students can solve basic computation faster, which is a lot of what math review is, then they can do the computation of a word problem faster. My students have the barrier of reading the problem, understanding what it is about, and picking a strategy that restricts many students from getting to the computing part.

Not sure Struggle with setting up the problem Solve computation faster Not sure Struggle with setting up the problem Solve computation faster Not sure Struggle with setting up the problem Solve computation faster Not sure Struggle with setting up the problem Solve computation faster

B

C

8. Do you think this program helps students correctly solve more real world problems? Why or why not? Teach Response Theme er A I feel that the Math Review is helping the Yes-Using students solve the real world problems correctly number sense because we are continually using the number daily sense skill throughout every class period multiple times. B Almost the same answer as above, though I did Yes and No-some

C

like the data section since kids seemed to be successful at it and it could spark decent conversations about real world things. I think the percent problems we’ve been working with help with real world situations too. I’ve been having decent success with transferring the situations we use in the problems to other situations in life that the kids can apply to their lives. (spending 5/7 days in school – what percentage of the week are you in school) Yes, for students who can dissect the problem enough to know what they need to do to solve the problem (what strategy or steps to use).

problems

Yes-if they can set up problem correctly Yes-Using number sense daily Yes and No-some problems Yes-if they can set up problem correctly

9. Will you continue using this program in your classroom? Why or why not? Teach Response Theme er A I will continue using the Math Review during my Yes classroom this year and then I will look at the Review data data and see how the Math Review has impacted More deliberate my students. As I have reviewed the data so far planning this year, the students have been improving with their math skills so the program is working with my students and I will continue to use this program next year. We will also have the worksheets and quizzes created this year and will be able to improve them for next year. B I think so. I’m happy with the changes we’re making, I think if we progress towards more deliberate planning and delivery of certain topics like ACMS it will look more useful in my own mind and I might work harder at certain topics. I don’t think it can stand alone though, we do need to have those anchor charts in our room and do what we can to incorporate these concepts into real world and word problems we’re using in Yes Review data More deliberate planning Incorporate skills into classroom content

C

class, but I like the stability of it, and it does seem to be slowly helping a larger group of students. It might be helping too that I keep reiterating that these are 6th grade skills and it seems like most of our students WANT to be at a 7th grade level, they just don’t know how to and will hopefully start taking it a bit more seriously. Yes: partially because we have to, but also because I think we need a longer time period to see if it is truly impacting our students in a positive way.

Yes Review data Yes Review data More deliberate planning Incorporate skills into classroom content

Appendix F: Student Survey questions
Explain why you answered yes or no to question #4. Question #4 stated, “Do you believe you have improved adding all types of fractions since completing the daily warm ups?

Theme Daily practice

Number of responses 1111111111111111111111 (22)

Quotes “I have improved on adding because I do it every day so I remember.” “I answered ‘yes’ because the extra practice helps me improve on the steps. It also helps me because I get things correct because of the extra practice.” “I gives me good practice every day so now I’m got better. “I have improved adding all types of fractions since completing the daily warm ups because I practice at home.” “I believe Ive improved adding fractions because I look in my notes and I know the steps.” “I answered yes because when we answer the problem and then we go over it we start understanding how to do the problems.” “I have not improved adding fractions because I’m still weak on that subject and can’t do it right” “I have not improved because I don’t understand” “I sometimes don’t get it. I am still confused about the steps/processes” “I answered no because I don’t understand math that very well and I get mixed up” “I answered yes because I saw on my tracking sheet and I got them wrong and I haven’t lately” “I answered yes to number 4 because I had bad grades in 6 grade because I did not understand it and know I feel that I can solve fractions.” “I said yes because I practice every day and I try really hard”

Practice at home

11111(5)

Getting them all right/it’s easy Following the steps

111111111111 (12) 1111111111111111111(19)

Go over answers/Ask questions after

111111111(9)

Still don’t understand/Get confused

111111111111 (12)

Student noticed he improved

1111111111 (10)

Paid attention/didn’t know how to do it before/trying hard

111111 (6)

Don’t pay attention

1 (1)

Explain why you answered yes or no to question #9. Question #9 stated, “Do you believe you have improved subtracting decimals since completing the daily warm ups?” Theme Number of responses Quotes Know to line up the 1111111111111111111111111(25 “I answered yes because I decimals ) learned how to line them up” “Yes, because I learned you have to line up the decimals and starting to get my answers right” “I answered yes because I learned better how to set it up properly”

Daily practice

11111111111111111(17)

Study

111(3)

Just like subtracting whole numbers Notice improvement

111(3)

11111 (5)

Easy to do/get right answers Go over answers

111111111111 (12) 11111(5)

Get confused (forget to line up decimals, get a lot wrong Answered question for multiplying decimals

111111111111(12)

“I picked yes on #9 because the practice we have been doing helped me understand more” “I picked yes because all the extra practice has gotten me faster and I gotten better” “I said yes to question #9 because I go home and study blue notes so I start to understand” “I answered yes on #9 because subtracting decimal is exactly like subtracting regular number” “I believe I have improved subtracting decimals because I have done better than I did before.” “I have been improving because I’m really good at it” “Yes I have improved because by going over it helps me” “Yes because we go over them and check what I did wrong” “Because it is kind of confusing subtracting decimals of knowing what to do with the decimal.”

1(1)

Do you believe the daily math warm ups have improved your ability to do well in math class. Why or why not? Yes No Not Sure/Sort of 71 5 6 Theme Never understand math Number of responses 5 Quotes “No I don’t think the daily warm ups help me in math class because some of this stuff is hard to understand. I do not like math” “Yes and no because it depends on what the problem is asking”

Depends on the problem

6

I improve/Know how to do it now

111111111111111111111

Give me practice

11111111111111111111111111111 1 1111

Better math grade this year Going over answers

1111111111 11111111

“Yes because I learn new things and it helps me more with math learning” “Yes because I have gotten better” “I think it does help because you can see if you improve or not” “Yes because we have practice and we get better throughout the day because we wake up at math because we practice” “yes because it’s a good way to practice” “I think the daily warm ups have improved my ability in math because I get more practice” “Yes because it’s giving me a chance to practice” “Yes because it’s pretty much all practice” “Yes because last year I had an F in math and this year I have a B” “Yes because it shows me steps when we go over it”

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