The study took place in grade 3 general education classrooms located in public schools in a large urban school district in the Southwestern United States.
Across two school years, the researchers randomly assigned 105 grade 3 students to the Pirate Math Equation Quest (PMEQ) condition, 84 students to the Pirate Math alone (PM-alone) condition, and 115 students to the business-as-usual condition. In year one, students were taught by 37 teachers in 13 schools. In year two, students were taught by 33 teachers in 13 schools. Students who were identified as having mathematics difficulty were eligible to participate in the study.
This review assesses the contrast between students in the intervention conditions (PMEQ and PM-alone) and the business-as-usual condition. A total of 284 students in grade 3 were included in this analysis.
Approximately 56% of the students were female, 61% were dual-language learners, and 12% were special education students. Twelve percent were African American, 7% were multiracial, 5% were White, 3% were Asian, and the rest had unknown race. Sixty-nine percent were Hispanic.
Pirate Math is a word-problem solving intervention designed to help students who are struggling with word problems. PMEQ and PM-alone took place three times per week for 30 minutes a session, for a total of 45 sessions. The interventionists worked with students individually in a quiet place outside of the classroom, such as the school library, a conference room, or an extra classroom. PMEQ and PM-alone students participated in five activities during each session: (a) Math Fact Flashcards, (b) Equation Quest or Pirate Crunch, (c) Buccaneer Problems, (d) Shipshape Sorting, and (e) Jolly Roger Review. Only one activity differed for students in the two intervention conditions: PMEQ students participated in Equation Quest where they deepened their understanding of the equal sign and learned to balance equations with a variable while PM-alone students participated in Pirate Crunch where they completed a review of mathematical concepts that were unrelated to the equal sign or word problems.
Students in the comparison group received business-as-usual grade 3 mathematics instruction. Classroom word-problem instruction for students in this condition (as well as for students in the PMEQ and PM-alone conditions) incorporated general mnemonic devices such as RICE: Read and restate, Illustrate, Calculate, Explain and edit; key word clues; and practice in applying problem-solution rules. Notably, none of the core mathematics classroom practices included schema instruction or explicit discussions about the equal sign as a relational symbol.
Support for implementation
In each year, interventionists participated in four, 1.5-hr tutoring trainings about the content of the intervention and the three types of additive word problem schemas: Total, Difference, and Change problems.