The effect of ranking tasks and peer instruction in a mathematics classroom
Harvey, Ryan Harvey
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Conceptual understanding had regularly been an area of difficulty for students in my mathematics classes. In an attempt to improve conceptual understanding, this study examined the effectiveness of two pedagogical tools that I have used previously when teaching physics: ranking tasks and peer instruction. The use of ranking tasks has been shown to be successful in helping students understand concepts in the high-school physics classroom. In addition, peer instruction has been determined to be a pedagogical method that enhances student success. The main focus of this study was to determine if the use ranking tasks in a peer instruction environment increased conceptual understanding of mathematics. The treatment was comprised of several peer instruction ranking task activities throughout a unit on linear relations. The activities involved an individual completion of a paper-and-pencil ranking task followed by a small group discussion and re-completion of the task with group input. After both the individual and group phases, students were prompted to record the confidence they had in their answer. Data collection for this study included a pre- and post-concept test for the treatment unit and for comparison, a non-treatment unit as well. To triangulate the data, a questionnaire aimed at revealing student perceptions on ranking tasks, peer instruction, and mathematics in general was given post-treatment. Furthermore, several students were randomly selected to participate in an interview after the treatment was completed. Finally, each ranking task also yielded insight to the effectiveness of the treatment through the rate of successful completion and student confidence. The results indicated that ranking tasks were successful in improving student conceptual understanding. When combined with peer instruction, the effectiveness of ranking tasks was even more prominent. Due to these positive outcomes, peer instruction ranking tasks will be an activity that I will regularly implement in my future mathematics classes. On a more general level, peer instruction is a model that I plan to use more often to enable students to learn from themselves and succeed with each other.