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A Look at Confidence in Learning

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Confidence in learning means feeling sure in one’s ability to effectively tackle learning tasks. Understanding how students’ confidence levels can impact learning outcomes is one topic that teachers, parents, school and district leaders, and educational researchers have pondered for many years 

To help uncover the relationship between Prodigy Math and our users’ math confidence, we implemented surveys* and reviewed learning-based data points generated from game play.

What did we learn about math confidence? Read on to find out more!

A look at confidence in learning

A study led by Dr. Robyn Pierce (2004, p. 290) defined mathematics confidence as “a student’s perception of their ability to attain good results and their assurance that they can handle difficulties in mathematics.”

In and out of the classroom, math confidence helps students:

  • Tackle new problems
  • Work independently and in groups
  • Connect learning across different concepts

As TED-Ed describes in the video embedded below, there are many elements that can impact a learner’s confidence level. There are elements outside of the learner’s control and there are elements within the learner’s control. These elements can include: 

  • Genetics
  • Social pressures
  • The choices a learner makes.

Since every learner has a different lived experience, every learner approaches learning through their own, unique lens. It’s essential to note that to increase confidence, simply suggesting that a learner should “be more confident” to achieve more success doesn’t suffice. All learners need personalized support to help them grow, including academic ability and self-confidence.

Why math confidence is relevant to Prodigy Education

Two children play Prodigy and develop math confidence.

Our mission at Prodigy Education is to help every student in the world to love learning. To do this, we implement our Motivation First! philosophy of education as we produce digital game-based learning tools for students. Math confidence is top-of-mind for us!

We were encouraged by the results of a large-scale meta analysis led by Dr. S. Koza Çiftçi (2019) looking at data from over 335 studies spanning 76 countries to investigate how self-confidence could impact achievement in mathematics. 

The researchers found that it did indeed have an effect and noted that, “traits such as self-confidence have become one of the most important variables that determine students' mathematics achievement in recent years.”

Since we feel it’s important to share critical insights with parents and teachers about student learning, this is an exciting area for us to explore.

Our methodology

We took an approach that included data from three different sources to help us understand what patterns related to math confidence might exist. The three data sources were:

  • A survey of parents/guardians
  • Learning data* generated from Prodigy Math
  • A 4-item in-game student survey* for students in 3rd - 8th grade adapted from a study on math confidence led by Drs. Colleen Ganley and Sarah Lubienski (2016). A sample item presented the statement: "Work in math is easy for me" to which students were asked to indicate their level of agreement on a 4-point scale (4 = Very True, 1 = Not At All True).

Our findings on confidence in elementary math

Parent Survey

Among over 1,000 respondents, more than 6 in 10 parents reported that their child’s level of confidence in math has improved since using Prodigy Math.

Chart showing that more than 6 in 10 parents say that their child's level of math confidence as improved since using Prodigy.

In-Game Student Survey

We provided in-game surveys* to Prodigy users in 3rd - 8th grade and we received over 650,000 responses. Let’s dive into what we found.

65% of Prodigy users have high levels of math confidence.

Pie chart showing that 65% of Prodigy users have high self-reported confidence.
Figure 1: Prodigy users were categorized based on their average survey scores as either having high math confidence (Math Confidence: Yes) or not having math perseverance (Math Confidence: No).

Younger Prodigy users were more likely to perceive themselves as confident.

Overview of math confidence of Prodigy users by self-reported grade level, showing that younger Prodigy users are more likely to perceive themselves as confident.
Figure 2: Relative percent of Prodigy users who self-reported as having high levels of math confidence, broken down by grade.

Among a small subset of Prodigy users who took a ‘Test Prep' in Prodigy Math during a time window close to the survey, students with high math confidence performed better on the ‘Test Prep’ than their peers with low math confidence across all grades.✝

Bar chart showing the impact of math confidence on the accuracy of Prodigy's Test Prep tool, broken down by grade level.
Figure 3: Answer accuracy on Test Prep, by grade, comparing Prodigy users with low self-reported math confidence to Prodigy users with high self-reported confidence.

In-Game Learning Data

Prodigy users with high confidence answered questions in Prodigy Math slightly more quickly than their peers across all grades.

Bar chart broken down by grade showing the time to solve a question in seconds, comparing self-reported high confidence with self-reported low confidence.
Figure 4: The amount of time, in seconds, taken to answer a question (on average) comparing Prodigy users with low self-reported confidence to Prodigy users with high self-reported confidence.

Fostering math confidence

While our findings on students with different levels of self-reported math confidence are certainly interesting, we also know that confidence is just one of many aspects that can impact learning outcomes.

There are many excellent resources available for teachers and parents who are looking to help to grow learning confidence in math. Take a look at this curated list of resources that may be helpful for further reading and review:

  • TED-Ed has learning resources that accompany the video on math confidence we embedded above including questions, articles, and additional videos to help broaden your knowledge base on this topic
  • In a blog post by Heinemann Publishing, the authors suggest encouraging students to value mistakes, take risks in their math learning, and develop self-reliance muscles
  • Letting students have fun while practicing math through game-based learning tools like Prodigy Math may impact students’ level of learning confidence

Prodigy Math Game is an adaptive learning platform for grades 1 to 8 that motivates kids to answer math questions in a fun, fantasy-inspired environment. Sign up today for a parent or teacher account to make learning math an adventure!

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*Responding to questions was/is optional for students. All data is anonymized and aggregated. No personally identifiable information (PII) was collected from students during this process. Findings are based on responses to questions at the time. Individual circumstances may vary, results are not guaranteed.

✝This research was not designed to attribute impact or levels of math confidence to the use of Prodigy Math as there was no control group of students who weren’t using Prodigy Math included in the analysis.

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