LOVEDALE, OOTY, TN—In February, first-ever female headmistress of The Lawrence School, Ms. Sangita Chima, gathered her maths department to welcome Monica Patel, CEO of First In Math India. In 2009, Chima was the principal at Billabong High International School (BHIS) Noida when the school was selected to first pilot the concept of a ‘deep practice’ program in India via the First In Math Online Program. Over coffee and delicious treats from the school’s in-house bakery, Chima explained to Patel that launching FIM at Lawrence was “a thoughtful initiation based on experience.”
Headmistress Chima (center, red tunic) and Mr. Suresh B (far right) head of The Lawrence School Maths Department pose with several members of the maths team.
“During my first exposure to FIM I was struck by the depth of design and the genius of inventor Robert Sun in presenting the content in seamless progression, thus completely engaging the student,” says Chima, adding that during her tenure at BHIS, sustained practice became the norm once FIM created a love for maths that became a part of the school’s culture.
Chima carried forward this rich experience from Noida in the north to Lovedale in south with the expert support of FIM Implementation Specialist, Akshita Gandhi. Being a boarding school, the Lawrence team was faced with an unusual situation. Students attending day schools continue with the excitement of FIM when they get home, with encouragement from parents. How could the children living on the Lawrence campus be encouraged to maintain participation during non-school hours?
Dynamic teachers quickly came up with the idea of organizing practice time on Sundays. The result of this drive is evidenced by a jump from 338,000 maths problems solved in December to more than 11,00,000 maths problems solved since November, 2013! Indeed, students are pursuing the task to its fullest and giving it their best at all times.
“My meeting with Headmistress Chima and Mr. Suresh, head of the maths department, made me understand why students from all over the world travel here to get a quality education,” says Patel. “Nestled in the Nilgiri Mountains, this sprawling 750-acre campus is home to an institution that has a rich history spanning 150 years, but more importantly is focused on the future—and the future of their students.”
At the end of her visit, Patel was especially moved by the parting words of the school’s spirited leader. “Watch out for Lawrence Lovedale, as our motto is - Never Give In."
EASTON, PA—At First In Math, we place a strong emphasis on the user experience. We update and refine our games on an ongoing basis and when a teacher, parent or student has a suggestion, we listen. These conversations often lead to a better experience for everyone.
Such was the case when David Hayward contacted FIM creator, Robert Sun, to report that his son was having difficulty with some of the Bonus games. The first-grader enjoyed FIM, but struggled to distinguish the colors in the pattern games because he is colorblind. Differentiating between red and green shape icons was especially difficult.
"I asked my son what colors he sees when he looks at the icon and he said the green icon was orange and the red icon was brown. He said he could tell the difference because the green icon was brighter than the red, but it was difficult,” explains Hayward. “That’s when I decided to email First In Math to see if they could help.”
Hayward’s email, which contained links to Internet articles explaining colorblindness, was immediately directed to Sun. There are variations in what a person with color blindness sees, according to Sun, who researched solutions on the Internet while considering an effective resolution to the problem. Hayward’s son has the most common form, Deuteranopia, which occurs in 7% of males. Deuteranopia and Protanopia make distinguishing between green and red very difficult. In Tritanopia, the problem is distinguishing between green and blue. You can see examples in the color wheels shown here.
“I realized that we have numerous modules that require sorting or determining patterns based on shape and color,” says Sun, who immediately set FIM designers a goal of creating shape icons that could accommodate various forms of colorblindness. “We decided that a green icon containing a pattern, such as wavy lines, would do the trick.”
Within a week, new shape icons were designed and emailed to Hayward’s son to see if designers were on the right track. “My son tested the prototypes and said it was much easier to distinguish the green icon with the lines included—mission accomplished,” says Hayward.
“It speaks volumes about Mr, Sun that he immediately responded to my inquiry, and within weeks he and his company were able to engineer an elegant solution to the problem,” says Hayward, who has come to expect good things from Sun based on past experience. “Before my son began using First In Math, I was a long time 24 Game fan. I used to take my students to the local Ohio 24 Challenge Tournament competition each year, and it was a great learning experience.”
Sun says the feeling is mutual. “It is great to hear from parents who are involved in their child’s education, and who are excited to help make the website better for everybody. Anytime I hear that there is a stumbling block out there for kids who are learning math, I’m curious to find out what it is and whether or not we can remove it. This was one example. As a small company, we have the ability to respond quickly to user input, and whenever possible, we try to do that.”
MIDDLETOWN, PA—A first-grader at Robert Reid Elementary School has become the first student at his school to reach the highest level offered in the First In Math program. Timothy Moore earned the title of Grand Champion when he surpassed 10,000 stickers.
Timothy Moore shows off his FIM GRAND CHAMPION certificate. (Teachers, you can download more than 140 different certificates from links on your Homepage: Certificates & Awards)
So far, Moore is the only student in the school to accomplish this goal. Reid students in second and third place have 5,000 stickers each. “Earning 10,000 stickers is quite a task, but it is even more incredible accomplishment for a first-grader,” says FIM VP Barbara Asteak.
Moore says that he has always had a love for numbers, which was evident even before he entered kindergarten, when his choice was to play with anything that related to clocks or numbers. When asked to explain his passion, Moore grins, “I just like ‘em.”
FIM stickers are earned by solving problems using addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and fractions. Moore completed many games, and he advanced as far as Skill Set 5, a level that challenges many adults. Moore also tackled the Add versions of the Integers, Decimals and Fractions Gyms.
Whenever he has a free moment at home, or is in the computer lab at school, he asks to log in to First In Math. Moore says he is on his way to becoming what he refers to as an ‘Ultimate Grand Champion’ by earning 50,000 stickers. Currently, only four players—one Team Leader and three students—in the U.S. have earned more than 50,000 stickers. Starting as a first-grader and given his enthusiasm and persistence, Moore may get there sooner than we think!
All of us can learn to communicate in the universal language of math. A circle is always a circle, and its circumference is calculated the same way no matter where you live. So, we were not surprised when First In Math (FIM) received enthusiastic reviews from several Italian students who were recently introduced to the online program—and its game-based content—through a sponsorship by World ORT.
Università degli Studi di Milano – Bicocca, (University of Milano Bicocca) in Milan, Italy.
Founded in 1880, World ORT is one of the largest non-governmental education and training organizations in the world. This year, through a network of schools, colleges, training centers and programs in Israel, Russia, Argentina, Western Europe and many other countries worldwide, their programs will benefit over 200,000 people of diverse ages and faiths.
“First In Math and World ORT share a commitment to the concept of Educating for Life,” explains Suntex International Executive Vice President Nan Ronis. Ronis was introduced to the organization through her involvement with the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley.
Acknowledging this similarity in their values, Ronis offered to implement First In Math in ORT sponsored schools who felt they could benefit from the program. She was contacted by the Italian affiliate and First In Math is now part of a Serious Games In Education pilot project in Milan. These classrooms are also serving as a “case study” for research associated with the Universita Biocca di Milano.
The students' remarks about the program revealed a strong awareness of their learning styles and their enthusiasm for its benefits. Translated from Italian to English, here is a sample of what they had to say:
“This work is…full of interesting games that draw people in. I liked it a great deal because it combines math with entertainment…”
“Before this game, I couldn’t do mental math quickly, but now I can make calculations in much less time…”
“I hope to continue to practice on the site and become FIRST IN MATH”
“I noticed that at the beginning the puzzles seemed impossible, but gradually and to my surprise, I was able to execute them without too much difficulty.”
“I initially encountered difficulties due to my lack of mental elasticity and the speed with which I could make calculations; as…I acquired a familiarity with the subject, and by practicing, I realized that I did succeed in coming up with solutions. The mental exercise was incredibly proficient at making my mind more nimble, not only in the field of math, but in general.”
These comments mirror what we hear from students here in the United States and other countries where First In Math is popular. It is encouraging to know that the universal language of math is the foundation for an equally universal education experience.
AUSTINTOWN, OH—Educators are known to do some exotic things to encourage math achievement. Past First In Math News & Notes stories have focused on student/teacher basketball games, teachers kissing pigs and even jumping out of airplanes, but Austintown Intermediate School students had a wild recess when third-grade principal Tim Kelty and fifth-grade principal Jeff Swavel agreed to sumo wrestle!
Austintown Intermediate School fifth-grade principal Jeff Swavel (left) and third-grade principal Tim Kelty are suited up to sumo wrestle. Photo © Austintown Neighbors
The creative pair challenged their students to earn 200,000 electronic stickers in the First In Math Online Program. A story written by Abby Slanker that appeared on the Austintown Neighbors website reported on their effort to encourage students to use First In Math. Read full story here.
Before the match, AIS fourth-grade principal Angel Owens handed out awards to top students. “We are here today because of First in Math. That is what has brought us all together. You all did an excellent job getting online and earning First in Math stickers,” Owens told the students gathered in the gym.
Owens laid down one important ground rule for the dueling principals. “Show your Falcon Pride,” Owens said. Then it was time for the two principals to live up to their end of the bargain. Students cheered loudly for their favorite during the match, and even did the wave.
“Both principals were more than happy to do it’” Owens told Slanker. “We wanted to get the students excited about First in Math and encourage them to continue doing their math problems online over the [holiday] break.”
How is your school encouraging math achievement? Is your school or classroom involved in an exciting project or activity that is creating math excitement and adding to your total sticker count? Please let us know by sending a note to firstname.lastname@example.org with a few details and your contact information. You may be featured in the First In Math News!
UPPER DARBY, PA—Three students at Bywood Elementary School in Upper Darby are currently ranked 1-2-3 among all students in the district's ten elementary schools—and 21st, 34th and 39th in the state rankings!
Third-grader Ahmed Alamin and fifth-graders Gelan Balcha and Mohammed Fahim are also among the top 100 students nationally.
Bywood ES Response to Instruction and Intervention specialist Tim McEntee watches Gelan Balcha and Mohammed Fahim, who are mesmerized by math games on the First in Math website. (Photo from Daily Education Times Staff / JULIA WILKINSON)
During an interview for an article that appeared on the Daily Education Times website, Alamin enthusiastically shared one of the secrets that brought him to the #1 rank in the district. “I play every night and on weekends."
Mirroring his student's enthusiasm, Bywood Principal Ed Marshaleck commented, "I think it's fantastic and I think the kids love it. It's great for them."
According to Response to Instruction and Intervention Specialist Tim McEntee, First In Math uses practice techniques that increase math computation, problem solving and critical thinking skills. “The kids view it as a game and they really enjoy it.”
Bywood students have already completed more than 1.3 million problems so far this year, and have earned more than 440,000 FIM stickers.
To read more about First In Math at Bywood Elementary School, check out this story written By Linda Reilly, Daily Education Times Correspondent. Bywood students top of class in First In Math.
In an article published on January 1, 2014 in eSchool News, Dr. Jeff D. Borden introduces eight trends that he believes may be the future of K-12 education. Many of these predictions, not surprisingly, point directly toward strengths of the First In Math Online Program.
Number one on his list is the “Gamification” of learning. According to Borden, Vice President of Academic Strategy & Instruction in Pearson’s Research and Innovation Network, games have reached a critical mass in terms of academic credibility and are gaining more and more traction with teachers. He postulates that rigorous research showing gains in retention, outcomes, risk taking, positive failure means that 2014 will see a dramatic increase in the integration of games into curricula to promote richer learning experiences.
Shawn Collier, FIM Implementation Specialist says that he is very excited to see Gamification ranked number one. “After looking at Dr. Borden’s list, and in speaking with educators, I am really looking forward to the next couple of years. I feel that FIM is already doing so much of what the educational community is just now catching on to. Whether its gaming, neuroscience, recognizing growth mindsets, or constructivism—these are pieces that we all believe in and already encourage!”
Number five on the list is a more widespread use of tablet devices in 2014. And, as Android and Microsoft scramble to unseat the reigning device king Apple, more “packaged” solutions for schools will appear.
Number six relates to Neuroscience & Learning Design: Borden says that 2014 will see more and more assimilation of brain science into the culture of teaching. If these terms sound familiar to you, it’s because we’ve been incorporating Neuroscience principles into First In Math’s “Deep Practice” techniques for years.
Read the full article.
HOPEWELL, VA—Hopewell City Public School board officials are singing the praises of a group of fourth-graders at Dupont Elementary School who have excelled in the First In Math Online Program.
Patricia Howell’s 4th Grade Class at Dupont Elementary. Photo courtesy Hopewell City Public Schools
Team Luxor83va currently ranks #1 in Virginia and #3 nationally among all 4th grade Teams. They also rank #48 nationally among all grades! Teacher and Team Leader, Patricia Howell, is currently ranked seventh among all educators playing in Virginia.
“The students are very driven now that they have excelled in the state rankings. Their next goal is to get into the top 25,” says Howell. “It is fun to see such an excited and motivated group of young people. They are bright, articulate and passionate about improving their standings and are genuinely excited about math!”
According to Howell, FIM provides her students with intense practice and works because they are rewarded and are constantly challenged. “The kids buy into it. It’s a mindset. Once they get into the game they find they can make a real connection with math. It is exciting. I am so proud of them.”
First In Math Virginia-area representative, Brock Estes, offers perspective on the performance of Team luxor83va so far. “They are competing against 1,500 other teams in Virginia of all grade levels. Nationwide, there are about 8,000 4th grade Teams competing, so that #48 ranking is quite impressive.”
“Kudos to Principal Carla Fizer, and Supervisor of Math, Science & Instructional Technology Dr. Tina Barringer for their great support of the program. I will be excited to see Dupont students add to their sticker-count over the remainder of the current competition year,” adds Estes. (Official competition ends on April 30, 2014)
“Our educators support the intellectual and personal development of their students by looking beyond the textbook and using technology, such as the First In Math program, to enhance and interact with the student,” explains Fizer.
Hopewell schools began using the FIM program in 2008, and in 2009 were on the elite list of schools to solve more than one-million math problems. For 13 years, the district has also hosted an annual 24 Challenge® Tournament. “Carter G. Woodson Middle School hosts our division tournament. The competition is open to all three of our elementary schools and middle school and involves math loving students from grades 3 to 8,” says Dupont Elementary School’s Math Specialist Mary Beth Hull.
Does your school have a FIM success story? “We definitely want to share experiences with our FIM family—these are the kind of accomplishments we love to celebrate,” says Suntex Communications Director, Deborah Schapiro. Email information to email@example.com
Recognition to the Top School/Top 100 Student Winners
When inventor and First In Math creator Robert Sun first learned about the OpenROV project several weeks ago, his response was immediate and enthusiastic. “As a teenager, it would have been a dream come true for me to build something like an underwater robot from a kit and then use it to explore local waterways!”
In January, Sun’s dream is going to become a reality for a select group of students when they are presented with the first-ever STEM Inspiration Award. The number one First In Math school in the National Top 100 Students ranking category will receive an OpenROV kit—a submarine-like Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) that is controlled from a laptop—to assemble and launch as a group.
An OpenROV device can even explore ocean waters! The project involves a global community of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math explorers who are constantly improving the OpenROV design.
“This award provides the winning students with an ideal opportunity to develop their skills working as a team as they build something of value, and also provides a demonstrable link between their learning and a real-life application in a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math field,” says Sun.
Much like First In Math, OpenROV is something tangible—and so much more. Physically, it is an open-source underwater robot, but it is also a community of people who work together to create more accessible, affordable and awesome tools for underwater exploration. FIM is an engaging and effective resource for math education, and a movement fueled by educators, students and parents all dedicated to the mastery of math.
As explained on the OpenROV website (http://openrov.com), the backbone of the project is the global community of do-it-yourself ocean explorers who are working, tinkering and improving the OpenROV design.
“If the ROV is having some sort of a problem and we can’t figure out how to handle it, I can go on the forums and post…and as I sleep…people who are experts are answering it because they find it interesting,” explains Eric Stackpole, co-creator of the project. Participants range from professional ocean engineers to hobbyists, software developers to students. And now, FIM winners will be joining this exciting group of innovative thinkers.
“At First In Math, we are passionate about opportunities that stimulate students awareness, curiosity and interest in STEM-related fields,” explains Sun. “I hope this award comes to represent and celebrate a demonstrable link between the mastery our students attain with FIM and how they can apply it to improve the world.”
Although building the OpenROV does not require a particular expertise in robotics or an engineering degree, the students will have a significant advantage as Sun, an accomplished electrical engineer who holds several patents, has graciously offered to serve as a consultant to the winning team. “I realize this is a very short window of competition, but we want to allow students plenty of time to work on the project before the end of the school year.”
The winner will be selected on January 31, 2014 at midnight (EST) and the school will be notified by phone. As of today, the two top contenders for the prize are Baldi Middle School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Manatee Bay Elementary in Weston, Florida. Indian Trace ES (FL), Wilson MS (PA) and Meadowside ES (CT) are also in the running.
To learn more about STEM and how Robert Sun believes we can inspire students read STEM: Four Letters for the Future published in FIM News, or read the full article Four Letters That Could Energize America, originally published in USA Today Magazine.
PORTLAND, ME—First In Math representative Nancy Kane journeyed northward to Maine’s east coast, where she visited veteran FIM schools as well as new users in the Portland Public Schools system.
Kane took the opportunity to drive through scenic downtown Portland on her way to Peaks Island Elementary. Located in Casco Bay, the island is part of the city of Portland but is about three miles from downtown and accessible by ferry. The island’s year round population is under 900 and in the summer swells to more than 4,000. The Abenaki Indians were among the first people to fully appreciate the island’s beauty and resources.
“Principal Cindy Nilsen was kind enough to have a parking pass and ticket waiting for me at the ferry, which was quite exciting as it was my first time in Portland,” explains Kane.
Left: Pulling up to the Peaks Island Ferry dock. Right: Charles Marenghi’s second/third-grade class creates their own FIM bulletin boards to track the team’s progress.
“The ferry ride lasted about 17 minutes and was a great opportunity to take pictures—it was freezing but we arrived just when I was thinking I needed to go inside,” laughs Kane. “School support staffer Angela Volger greeted me as she was dropping off some other teachers who were returning to the mainland.” Gym and art teachers must travel weekly out to the small island school. They share the commute with many Peaks residents and students who rely on the ferry for daily transportation to their jobs and the middle and senior high school in Portland.
Kane enjoyed a visit with Charles Marenghi’s second/third-grade class, where she found the students to be calm, quiet and confident as they offered her a warm welcome. “They were more than happy to show me around the room and point out their names on the classroom’s FIM bulletin boards—one for sticker count and one for level,” says Kane. Marenghi, a strong proponent of FIM, agrees with inventor Robert Sun’s philosophy about the importance of students taking ownership of their participation in the program. His classes are in charge of keeping up with the bulletin board themselves. “I roll the program out in bits and pieces and let the students explore the site,” says Marenghi. “I put the FIM Traveling Trophy out in the fourth/fifth grade class and let them inquire as to how to earn it.”
Marenghi also finds the competition element of FIM is a motivating factor that encourages his students’ participation. “I remind them that they are a team and are all working together. My lower-skilled students are improving their math skills while the students with higher skills are discussing problem-solving strategies—everybody wins. Even my highly-motivated students have the freedom to really explore and push themselves.” Students are encouraged to use FIM at home but for no more than 20 minutes—Peaks Island staff and parents feel very strongly about limiting students’ screen time.
Though he encourages them to participate in the program autonomously, Marenghi says that If the kids are struggling they can request help by writing their question on a Post-it® note and placing it on the white board with their name on it. “Then I can check who needs support and respond to them. Today I helped Lilah with adding fractions with irregular denominators. Ten minutes later she got her stickers!”
Currently, Marenghi’s class is home to the top players in the state, 13best12me (Lilah Green) and 12best13me. Top teams in the state are Best12me (grades 2/3) and Fiji54me (grades 4/5).
Kane also visited Lyseth Elementary, where she met with Principal Lenore Williams and Kathy Jewett, Educational Technician. She also visited St. James Catholic School and Howard Reiche Community School, and had the pleasure of introducing the program to Marydee Stinson’s second-grade class and Sean Daly’s fifth-grade class at Riverton ES. “They had lots of great questions,” says Kane, who touched on FIM’s Common Core-related content, and discussed other resources FIM offers to teachers and students throughout the year.
Part two of a two-part series by Shawn Collier.
We hear it sensationalized by the media—schools don’t have money, teachers are losing jobs, and students are failing. This view ultimately devalues our entire education system—and a profession that should be at the top of the “we appreciate you” list!
The situation needs to change, and can be changed. Teachers must be allowed to engage students based upon their strengths and weaknesses—not merely operate in ‘what’s going to be on the test’ mode. As a former teacher and math specialist I know that math is not a born ability; it is a skill—one that you are able to improve with practice. If students truly buy into the idea that academic talent is grown, not born, they can exceed expectations. This is where First In Math fits perfectly into a school setting, because its open architecture allows entry at many skill-levels, regardless of grade.
Everything students touch on First In Math is captured on a teacher’s Assessment Page, which serves as a window into each student’s needs—or strengths. When FIM success is promoted, children begin to care about achievement and develop an internal drive to log in to the program every day and practice more to earn more stickers.
While it is important for teachers to be aware of each student’s proficiencies and deficiencies, it is also important for each student to know this information. No matter what one wants to achieve in life, knowing and tracking data is key to growing talent. FIM allows students to monitor their own goals, passing the data baton to the student. It also allows the classroom to talk about what is seen in the data related to math achievement. Are students mostly multiplying by 1, 2, 5, 10, and 11? If so, why is that? As teachers we all know that those are easier to memorize, but allowing the students to facilitate the discussion permits them to take ownership of the outcomes.
In many ways, First In Math can be thought of as parallel paths taken by the teacher and student. The path the students are on is one motivated by a game and the idea of building a score and collecting achievements. The path the teachers walk is the constant collection of data through out the year, and an ability to provide practice to each student specific to his or her needs. In the most successful classrooms, these paths do not remain parallel—they eventually converge.
First in Math provides more powerful information to a teacher than a score on a test. This amazing use of technology, and its gaming format, allows us to immediately act on data related to each student’s strengths and weaknesses. When students are provided with a way to “start as low as you need to, but go as high as you can,” teachers can create an environment where students have an intrinsic drive to do their best.
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