Speedometry Implementation Indicates Positive Impact on Students

January 13, 2016

Trial shows increases in fourth graders’ knowledge of math and science, improvements in girls’ attitudes toward math and science

Speedometry feature imageFourth-graders who learned science and math concepts with “Speedometry” showed gains in content knowledge and a greater interest in lessons in comparison to students who did not use the curriculum, according to preliminary results released by the USC Rossier School of Education.

Launched in October of 2014, the curriculum USC Rossier created with funding from the Mattel Children’s Foundation allows students to explore scientific concepts such as potential and kinetic energy while providing teachers with a new instructive tool. The two-week program emphasizes hands-on investigation and active engagement in scientific practices such as designing experiments, gathering and recording data and reporting results.

USC Rossier researchers have released an initial technical report on the program. The two-year effort included a pilot phase and district-wide randomized-control trial involving more than 1,800 fourth graders in 59 classrooms overseen by a five-member faculty team with expertise in K-12 education and science and math standards.

Speedometry curriculum development and testing was funded by the Mattel Children’s Foundation. The foundation was not involved in the design, conduct or analysis of the research and had no influence over the reporting of results.

“With America’s need for more college graduates entering the STEM fields, teachers need to find ways to make scientific topics engaging and accessible for students from an early age,” USC Rossier Dean Karen Symms Gallagher said. “This program created a curriculum that brings science and math to life for kids and is grounded by the research and assessment of leading Rossier experts in education.”

Although Hot Wheels cars were used in the pilot study, the curriculum can be conducted with other toys, including household and classroom items.

“The partnership between USC Rossier and the Mattel Children’s Foundation stems from a shared belief that a freely available curriculum built around familiar toys and incorporating innovative teaching methodology aligned with rigorous educational standards could accelerate student engagement in STEM and potentially be replicable in a variety of contexts,” says USC Rossier Associate Professor Julie Marsh, who helped lead the research. The researchers also were committed to increasing interest and engagement of STEM among underrepresented groups.

According to the results:

  • Students who experienced Speedometry out-performed control group students on a test of science and math content knowledge by 1.34 points (out of 20). Fully 95 percent of all teachers (both treatment and control) reported that student learning of science content moderately or greatly improved as a result of Speedometry, while 79 percent reported student learning of mathematics content moderately or greatly improved.
  • Students who experienced Speedometry showed greater interest and positive emotions about the lessons compared to control group students’ interest and positive emotions about their traditional science or math lessons.
  • Both of the above findings were true for students across demographic groups, including girls and boys, English language learners and students eligible for special education.
  • Implementing Speedometry was associated with increases in teachers’ confidence to teach science inquiry skills.

“Because we randomly assigned classrooms to receive Speedometry lessons, we can be confident that the differences we found are caused by the lessons,” said Morgan Polikoff, assistant professor of education at USC Rossier and a leader of the research team. “In short, the curriculum successfully met our objective to foster STEM interest and engagement for the students we studied.”

Another benefit from the program: girls’ negative emotions about science and mathematics were found to decrease as a result of Speedometry.

“This finding is particularly notable,” said Gale Sinatra, professor of education and associate dean of research at USC Rossier and another leader on the research team, “because decreasing negative emotions may have an even greater effect on girls’ sustained interest in STEM than would increasing positive emotions. STEM fields are overwhelmingly male, and greater engagement in science for girls at the elementary school level is critical to reversing this trend.”

More than 90 percent of teachers reported that they were more likely to teach science inquiry skills in the future, according to the study.

The researchers hope that Speedometry can serve as a model for future development and research around new curriculum materials, both to extend Speedometry to other grades and settings (e.g., after school), and also to encourage the creation of other programs to help teachers bring inquiry-based STEM learning to students. 

“We wanted to make a sustained positive impact for children and their teachers, so we funded the full district test to make sure the positive feedback from classrooms was backed by extensive research,” said Robert Goodwin, executive director of the Mattel Children’s Foundation. “These results confirm that play can enhance learning and increase child engagement. We are confident Speedometry will have a lasting impact on STEM education.”

Members of the research team will present some of their findings at the upcoming conferences of the American Educational Research Association and Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness.

The curriculum and home-based activities are available for free in both English and Spanish on the Speedometry website (hotwheels.com/Speedometry).

A copy of the report is available upon request. An executive summary is available at tinyurl.com/SpeedometryEval.




About the USC Rossier School of Education

The mission of the USC Rossier School of Education is to improve learning in urban education locally, nationally and globally. USC Rossier leads the way in innovative, collaborative solutions to improve education outcomes. Their work is field-based, in the classroom, and online, and reflects a diversity of perspectives and experiences. USC Rossier prides itself on innovation in all its programs, preparing teachers, administrators, and educational leaders who are change agents. The school supports the most forward-thinking scholars and researchers, whose work is having direct impact on student success in K-12 schools and higher education. USC Rossier is a leader in using cutting-edge technology to scale up its quality programs for maximum impact.


About Mattel Children’s Foundation

The Mattel Children’s Foundation was established in 1978 and is a separate charitable organization incorporated as a nonprofit public benefit corporation. Since its inception, the mission of the Mattel Children’s Foundation has been to make a meaningful difference in the lives of children in need around the world. Today the Foundation continues to fulfill this mission through partnerships with exemplary nonprofit partners that demonstrate our commitment through both compassionate outreach to children and strong financial accountability. Over the years, the Mattel Children’s Foundation has supported millions of children around the world through grants to charitable organizations that serve youth and the funding of new technologies, after-school activities, literacy projects, and programs that promote the health and empowerment of children in need.