What is it about middle school and mathematics?
Decades of educational research demonstrate that during the years between elementary school and high school, many students disengage from math and don’t regain their interest—to the detriment of their later schooling, and even their adult careers. A study that followed 273 students over the course of their first year of middle school, for example, found that by spring, the pupils described mathematics as less valuable than they had the previous fall, and reported that they were investing less effort and persistence in the subject than they had before.
Andrew Martin, a researcher from the University of Sydney in Australia, set out to investigate what made middle-school students switch on -- or switch off -- to math. The findings of Martin and his colleagues, which were published earlier this year in the Journal of Educational Psychology, were based on data from 1,601 Australian middle school students, from 200 classrooms in 33 schools.
One of the factors they identified in turning middle-schoolers onto math is self-efficacy: students’ sense that they are competent and able enough to solve mathematical problems. To foster and encourage this in kids, Martin recommends that teachers and parents “restructure learning so as to maximize opportunities for success" by building on skills that students have already mastered, for example, and helping kids set challenging but realistic goals.