Boys do read maps better than girls

26 JUNE 2008

It’s official: boys do read maps and graphs better than girls, according to work by a research group from Charles Sturt University and Queensland University of Technology.

It’s official: boys do read maps and graphs better than girls, according to work by a research group from Charles Sturt University (CSU) and Queensland University of Technology (QUT).
Leading CSU education researcher, Professor Tom Lowrie, has shown that boys aged between 9 and 12 years from nine primary schools across Australia scored significantly higher in national tests using maps than did girls of the same age.
“This supports the results of earlier, much smaller studies with similar results. We have gone a step further by using national testing to provide these results, with data gathered over four years,” Professor Lowrie said.
The study is part of a larger project funded by the Federal Government conducted by Professor Lowrie and Professor Carmel Diezmann at QUT. The results of the study are timely given the introduction of national testing of all Australian students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 in basic mathematical literacy.
“The amount of information being presented to people, including students, is growing. Increasingly, we are using pictures, images and graphics to handle much of this information, and mathematics has an important role to play in data handling. You only have to look at television news in recent years and the number of graphics now used to quickly convey information in economics and the weather,” he said.
“We believe there is a mismatch between the expectations placed on students in national maths tests and the graphics they encounter in the classroom. This casts doubts on some results in these tests, especially where graphs are used in test items, as we do not know if children are ready to decode these tasks, particularly in Grade 3.”
Professor Lowrie is also concerned with the connection between graphics and the literacy demands that surround them, and their effects on student performance.
“We have been using words in tests for hundreds of years, so we should have the representation right. However, we have only been using graphs extensively in tests for a much shorter time and our expertise in this form of assessment is still developing.
“Our research has also shown that slight changes in how graphics are represented in standardised tests can have a significant benefit for students’ performances.”
As he can only see the amount of information bombarding people increasing, Professor Lowrie is adamant people should know more about graphics.
“We need to make the reading and interpreting of graphics more explicit in the teaching of maths, especially in the early years of schooling. We would be teaching a new set of skills that all people will need.”
The $233 000 research project, which started in 2004, was funded through the Federal Government’s Australian Research Council as a joint project between CSU and QUT.

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