In this first study, which was conducted in the school year 2012/2013, we tested whether ninth-grade students’ value beliefs for mathematics could be enhanced by utility value interventions in the classroom setting and compared two different approaches to enhance students’ utility value. MoMa 1.0 can best be characterized as a large efficacy trial (cf. Gottfredson et al., 2015).
A total of 1916 students out of 82 ninth grade classrooms from 25 academic-track schools participated in the study. The classes were randomly assigned to one of two intervention conditions or a waiting control condition. The intervention was a 90 minute lesson on the relevance of mathematics that was carried out by researchers in the classroom. The first part was a psychoeducational presentation, in which information on the relevance of math was presented. In the second part, students worked on individual tasks which differed by intervention condition: In the quotations condition, students were asked to evaluate quotations of young adults describing situations in which math was useful to them. In the text condition, students were asked to write an essay on the personal relevance of math to their current and future lives. In order to evaluate the effects of the interventions, students’ motivation was assessed via self-reports before the intervention, six weeks after the intervention, and five months afterwards. Additionally, students’ achievement was assessed and parents and teachers filled out questionnaires. Classes in the waiting control condition received the intervention after the last wave of data collection to ensure that motivational changes were due to the intervention.
Students in both intervention conditions were found to report higher utility value compared to the control condition six weeks as well as five months after the intervention. Additionally, students in the quotations condition also reported to have more fun in math and performed better in an achievement test. With respect to intrinsic and utility value, girls benefited more from the intervention than boys. Also, students’ from families with low interest for math were found to benefit more from the intervention than students’ from families with high interest for math.
Our study extended previous studies by implementing a relatively short relevance intervention in the classroom at a larger scale. This intervention was designed to meet the practical needs and challenges of classroom-based intervention studies. Our results show positive effects on students’ motivation and achievement that sustained for several months. We could also show that utility value interventions might offer a possibility to reduce gender differences in math as well as differences between students with different family background.