Effects of Interspersing Additional Brief Math Problems on Student Performance and Perception of Math Assignments: Getting Students to Prefer to Do More Work

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Three experiments were conducted to assess the effects of the interspersing procedure on students' mathematics performance, perceptions of mathematics assignments, and preference for mathematics assignments when more work was added. In Experiment I, college students worked computation problems from two assignments. The control assignment contained 15 three-digit by two-digit problems (3 × 2) and the experimental assignments contained 18 3 × 2 problems and 6 additional interspersed one-digit by one-digit problems (1 × 1). Students then rated the assignments and chose one for homework. Results showed significantly more students preferred (i.e., chose it for homework) the experimental assignment with the additional target (i.e., 3 × 2) and interspersed problems. Furthermore, significantly more students rated this experiment as requiring less effort and being less difficult. Moreover, students' mathematics performance was not affected by the procedure. Experiment II strengthened the internal validity by showing that students did not prefer the experimental assignment because it contained more target problems. Experiment III showed that the interspersing procedure was not powerful enough to extend findings beyond the 20% level (i.e., 40 and 60% more conditions). Results showed how the interspersing procedure could be used to encourage students to choose to do more target computation tasks. Discussion focuses on the applied value of the interspersing procedure and plausible causal mechanisms that may account for current and past findings related to student choice and interspersing brief tasks.

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