Blocking Vs. Interleaving: Examining Single-Session Effects Within Middle School Math Homework

  • Korinn OstrowEmail author
  • Neil Heffernan
  • Cristina Heffernan
  • Zoe Peterson
Conference paper
Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNCS, volume 9112)


The benefit of interleaving cognitive content has gained attention in recent years, specifically in mathematics education. The present study serves as a conceptual replication of previous work, documenting the interleaving effect within a middle school sample through brief homework assignments completed within ASSISTments, an adaptive tutoring platform. The results of a randomized controlled trial are presented, examining a practice session featuring interleaved or blocked content spanning three skills: Complementary and Supplementary Angles, Surface Area of a Pyramid, and Compound Probability without Replacement. A second homework session served as a delayed posttest. Tutor log files are analyzed to track student performance and to establish a metric of global mathematics skill for each student. Findings suggest that interleaving is beneficial in the context of adaptive tutoring systems when considering learning gains and average hint usage at posttest. These observations were especially relevant for low skill students.


Interleaving Blocking Adaptive tutoring system Mathematics education Randomized controlled trial 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Birnbaum, M.S., Kornell, N., Bjork, E.L., Bjork, R.A.: Why interleaving enhances inductive learning: the roles of discrimination and retrieval. Mem Cogn 41, 392–402 (2013)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Bjork, R.A.: Memory and metamemory considerations in the training of human beings. In: Metcalf, J., Shimamura, A.P. (eds.) Metacognition: Knowing about knowing, pp. 185–295. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA (1994)Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Cepeda, N.J., Pashler, H., Vul, E., Wixted, J.T., Rohrer, D.: Distributed practice in verbal recall tasks: A review and quantitative synthesis. Psy Bulletin 132, 354–380 (2006)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Heffernan, N., Heffernan, C.: The ASSISTments Ecosystem: Building a Platform that Brings Scientists and Teachers Together for Minimally Invasive Research on Human Learning and Teaching. Int. J. of AI. in Ed. 24(4), 470–497 (2014)MathSciNetGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Kornell, N., Bjork, R.A.: Learning concepts and categories: Is spacing the “enemy of induction”? Psychological Science 19, 585–592 (2008)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    LeBlanc, K., Simon, D.: Mixed practice enhances retention and JOL accuracy for mathematical skills. 49th Annual Meeting of the Psychonomic Society, Chicago, IL (2008)Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Li, Nan, Cohen, William W., Koedinger, Kenneth R.: Problem order implications for learning transfer. In: Cerri, Stefano A., Clancey, William J., Papadourakis, Giorgos, Panourgia, Kitty (eds.) ITS 2012. LNCS, vol. 7315, pp. 185–194. Springer, Heidelberg (2012)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Makel, M.C., Plucker, J.A.: Facts Are More Important Than Novelty: Replication in the Education Sciences. Educational Researcher. AERA (2014)Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Mayfield, K.H., Chase, P.N.: The effects of cumulative practice on mathematics problem solving. J. of Applied Behavior Analysis 35, 105–123 (2002)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Mendicino, M., Razzaq, L., Heffernan, N.T.: Comparison of Traditional Homework with Computer Supported Homework. J. of Research on Tech in Ed. 41(3), 331–358 (2009)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Ostrow, K.: Materials for Study on Blocking vs. Interleaving, January 13 2015.
  12. 12.
    Rau, M.A., Aleven, A., Rummel, N.: Interleaved practice in multi-dimensional learning tasks: Which dimension should we interleave? Learning and Instr. 23, 98–114 (2013)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Rau, M.A., Aleven, V., Rummel, N., Pacilio, L., Tunc-Pekkan, Z.: How to schedule multiple graphical representations? A classroom experiment with an intelligent tutoring system for fractions. In: The Future of Learning: Proceedings of the 10th ICLS (2012)Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Roediger, H.L.: Psychology’s woes and a partial cure: the value of replication. The Academic Observer, The Association for Psychological Science (2012).
  15. 15.
    Rohrer, D.: Interleaving helps students distinguish among similar concepts. Educational Psychology Review 24, 355–367 (2012)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Rohrer, D., Pashler, H.: Recent research on human learning challenges conventional instructional strategies. Educational Researcher 39(5), 406–412 (2010)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Rohrer, D., Taylor, K.: The shuffling of mathematics practice problems boosts learning. Instructional Science 35, 481–498 (2007)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Shea, J.B., Morgan, R.L.: Contextual interference effects on the acquisition, retention, and transfer of a motor skill. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Learning and Memory 5(2), 179–187 (1979)Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Taylor, K., Rohrer, D.: The effects of interleaved practice. Applied Cognitive Psychology 24, 837–848 (2010)CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Korinn Ostrow
    • 1
    Email author
  • Neil Heffernan
    • 1
  • Cristina Heffernan
    • 1
  • Zoe Peterson
    • 2
  1. 1.Worcester Polytechnic InstituteWorcesterUSA
  2. 2.Carleton CollegeNorthfieldUSA

Personalised recommendations