The Positive Effect of the Presence of Visual Models on Children’s Performance on Multiplication Problems

Natasha Belsky and Esther Yoon, Harvard College ‘18 & Columbia University


The purposes of this study were to (a) explore the effects of visual models on children’s ability to correctly solve multiplication word problems, (b) compare the effectiveness of the bar model versus pictorial representations, and (c) examine whether the effectiveness of visuals changes if students have prior knowledge and memorization of multiplication. Seventy-four second and third grade students from New York City schools (7.5-9.4 years old) were randomly split into one of three conditions: No Images, Bar Model, or Pictures. The participants were first required to complete a pre-test to examine their prior knowledge of multiplication and skill. Then they completed a set of tasks containing the same multiplication story problem, with either no images, bar models, or pictorial representations. The students in the Bar Condition and Pictures Conditions performed significantly better than the students in the No Images Condition, but there was no significant difference between the two visuals conditions. The results indicated that regardless of prior multiplication skill level, visual learning methods, specifically the bar model and pictorial representations, are advantageous to mathematical comprehension and learning.