Personalized Affective Learning Study (PALS)

PALS is a large-scale, randomized control trial (RCT) study of the MathSpring learning tool. It is funded by the Institute of Education Sciences, which is part of the U.S. Department of Education. Sixth grade teachers across Massachusetts will participate in the study by using MathSpring in their classrooms and supporting researchers in their evaluation of the tool's efficacy. Two cohorts of 6th grade students will use the program across two school years.


The goals of this study

The goal of this rigorous study is to understand the impact on teacher practice and student achievement of using MathSpring for 6th-grade math classes. The U.S. Department of Education is funding this study in Massachusetts and will bring over one million dollars into Massachusetts – for example, to pay for teacher professional development.

We will randomize participating schools into two groups:

Immediate Use Group

  • Teachers will be trained online and in person to use MathSpring in Summer 2020 and Fall 2021
  • Teachers will use MathSpring in their classrooms in 2020-2021
  • Teachers will have free access to MathSpring after Summer 2022

Delayed Use Group

  • Teachers will teach normally in the classroom without MathSpring 2020-2021
  • Teachers will be trained to use MathSpring during Summer 2022
  • Teachers will have free access to MathSpring after Summer 2022

Research questions include:

  • Does MathSpring improve students’ achievement in mathematics?
  • What factors moderate the effects of MathSpring?
  • How does MathSpring affect students’ approaches to learning and disposition towards mathematics?
  • Does MathSpring lead teachers to provide more targeted instructional activities?
  • How does MathSpring lead to changes in affects over time?

What is MathSpring?

MathSpring is a free, online environment that teachers use to provide supplementary learning and practice activities for students’ mathematics skills. It does not replace a teacher’s curriculum – instead, teachers integrate their desired content into the system. The learning environment contains practice problems that are aligned to students’ specific needs and the Common Core Standards. It has been used by more than 7,000 students and over 500 teachers and addresses 214 Common Core standards/topics for Grades 5–12, with problem-solving hints for 900 individual mathematics problems including those written in Spanish.

One of MathSpring’s key features is an affect-aware system that is designed to recognize emotions like boredom, frustration, and engagement. Like a human tutor, it supports engagement and structured practice required for improved student learning and problem solving.

For teachers, the environment provides immediate feedback about student progress and class behavior. It visualizes students’ skill level and measures their effort (e.g., skip problem, solve with hints, not read the problem) rather than simply measuring correctness. The Dashboard provides data analytics tools that measure students’ expertise, competence, and effort, and help personalize teaching. It estimates student learning overall, progress per individual skill over time, and assessments aggregated by class along with students’ fine-grained interactions with the system (e.g., time to attempt an answer, amount of helps requested, etc.).

MathSpring provides multiple paths to improve learning, including:

  • Immediate feedback and personalized content customized to student performance level and affect
  • Diagnostic reports for teachers that identify which students struggled and which problems were difficult
  • Multimedia help for each problem as students practice
  • Animated agents with affective support and growth mindset messages
  • Visualization of student mastery so students can reflect on their progress