FIM News

First In Math Introduces A Single Metric
For Measuring Balanced Skills: The Goals Index

EASTON, PA—Designed with input from teachers and administrators, a new assessment tool has been added to the arsenal educators have at their disposal—the Goals Index.

First In Math Goals Index assessment tool

The default category is Elementary; toggle to view Intermediate or Advanced data.

The Goals Index is a single metric that measures four critical areas of math skills students need to master: Activity (persistence in practice), Fact Fluency, Word Problem Fluency, and Procedural Fluency. Each category carries equal weight, and contributes 25 points toward the overall Goal Index maximum of 100 points.

The Goals Index is displayed at the top of the various Goals pages at the classroom (Team Goals), School and District levels. An updated Player Goals page will be launched shortly. Goals Index information is beautifully summarized in a circular graphic that displays data visually, showing the overall Goals Index number in the center and each category’s contribution around the circle.

“The main Goals Index Hub graphic makes it easy to see, at a glance, program status—and then allows users to access very detailed information with just a few clicks,” explains Executive VP Nan Ronis.

The Goals Index is offered in four grade classifications: Early (grades K, 1, 2); Elementary (grades 3, 4); Intermediate (grades 5, 6); and Advanced (grade 7, 8). Each grade classification measures grade-appropriate mathematics skills.

New Goals pages highlight detailed actionable assessment data of the four major categories of the Goals Index.

If you are a teacher or administrator with detailed questions about the Goals Index, please contact us at 800-242-4542.

24 Challenge Champions, Then & Now:
Matt DiRusso

Tournament-style 24 Challenge® events—featuring the same 24® game Single- and Double-Digit editions that are incorporated into First In Math Skill Sets—take place in schools and districts all around the country. Enjoy this story about a former champion.

STATEN ISLAND, NY—Matt DiRusso has been playing the 24® game since grade school, and won multiple New York City contests in 2001 and 2002. “You might think that 12 years is a long time for me to be bragging about adolescent victories, but it helps me explain why I am positive that this game shaped my math skills for life,” says DiRusso.

24 Challenge Champion Matt DiRusso

Matthew DiRusso receiving his diploma from the College of Staten Island, and as an 11-year old (inset).

DiRusso was his sixth-grade champion, the Public School 232 champion, and District 27 champion in NYC, going undefeated in his tournament bouts. “In the beginning I played several hours a day, then less and less as I mastered the game, because I could solve the cards so quickly.”

“My most memorable victory was a card I had never seen before. The last card on the table was a 3-point card and to this day I remember the solution, 72÷3=24. I remember how shocked my teacher’s face was when I shouted the solution just as she was going to flip the card and call it a stalemate.”

Some students accused him of memorizing the cards. “I didn't memorize the cards at all; what ended up happening was truly amazing. I began to see the product of the digits without even thinking, and would be able to blurt out an answer faster than my competitor almost every time.”

DiRusso still struggles to explain the exact mechanics. “If you take a card with the numbers 6 - 3 - 4 - 8 as an example, I automatically ‘see’ in my head the solution 8 x 3 = 24*. This approach is key to success at the 24 game, and I believe I adopted this operating system at a young age and was able to carry it forward and build on it.”

“I kept playing as the years went by, and as a result developed even more mental-math skills,” says DiRusso. “I am good at calculating and making estimates and my number-grouping skills help me easily recall phone numbers, account numbers, router passwords and so on.”

Today, DiRusso is an auditor. “I use my math skills every day at work. I am currently working toward my CPA and am considering law school, even though numbers may be where I belong.”

DiRusso says he has no doubt that he owes his outstanding math skills to the 24 game. “My father was good at math and set a wonderful example for me, but I am positive it was the 24 game that unleashed my potential. I am thankful I was introduced to this game because I believed it shaped my brain.”

There is, however, one problem. “I'm very passionate about the 24 game and I love to play, but I have no one left to share it with—friends don’t want to play with me any more because I always win!

*(Here is the full solution: 8 ÷ 4 = 2, 2 + 6 = 8, 8 x 3 = 24. There are several others for this card, can you find them all?)

Click here for more information on the 24 Challenge® at

How Teachers Can Get the Most Out of First In Math

One of the benefits of the First In Math Online Program’s design is that it fits into any teacher’s world.

“Because there is no one correct way to teach math, our goal is to be sure that each teacher understands the powerful tool they have at their fingertips, and how it can help their students,” explains Implementation Specialist Shawn Collier. A former teacher, Collier suggests that while most students need specific math practice, some kids just need to learn how to learn.

Student playing Grand Slam game

One key to a successful implementation is to help teachers better understand why First In Math’s open palette of activities is better than locking students in to certain areas and out of others. “We need students to become interested enough that they want to touch math on their own. Sometimes it may be something slightly below their skill level, sometimes it may be something above their skill level, but what is most important is that it is an autonomous act,” explains Collier. “There will be times when the teacher says, today's area of focus will be the multiplication gym, but when a student logs on they should think of their homepage as a gateway to explore math—sometimes with guidance and sometimes just because it’s fun.”

Implementation Strategist Monica Patel agrees. “When I conduct sessions in person at a school, I let students make the choice of what works best for them, given a set of options.” Patel, a former teacher with extensive experience in differentiation, has students rotate through the computer lab for one class period each. 

“First, I demonstrate to students several different fact-fluency activities that yield the same objective. Then they are given five minutes to find which one works best for them. I always allow students with ‘timer anxiety’ to opt out of timed modules and select untimed Bonus modules,” adds Patel, who points out that another important component to consider is the reality that some kids need to learn how NOT to be intimidated by math.

During the session, it becomes apparent when a student is engaged and on-task to complete their individual goals—they have found their instructional level. As students play, perseverance and task-completion are recognized and rewarded with First In Math’s electronic ‘stickers’ and positive messages.

“As a by-product, I see students proactively apply Standards of Mathematical Practices until they are able to solve problems accurately, and they attend to precision to earn maximum points,” says Patel. “Because their goal is to earn as much as it is to learn, students also begin to apply strategy. Reviewing their errors and repeating the practice is among the commonly-used strategies that we are excited to see. Academic skills can be acquired with good teaching and effort, but executive-functioning skills are learned through experience, by doing.”

According to Patel, two aspects of these sessions generate great excitement among teachers. Given that in each class there is a wide range of skill levels, it would typically fall on teachers to differentiate math tasks. In the FIM sessions, all students work toward the same learning objective, but each works on a task that they can best complete accurately. “Each student finds a task that matches his or her skill level—their paths are parallel and lead to the same academic outcome.”

Of even greater importance is the fact that the semi-autonomous nature of the sessions leads students to deep engagement and self-discovery of their learning style.

Patel says she is often most exited about what happens when she is ready to leave. “Typically, after the sessions, many teachers are quick to shift the class into ‘guided-practice’ mode with word-problem solving as the next objective of the session. Students excitedly transition to this activity and even use notebooks to work out solutions!”

editor’s note: First In Math offers regularly-scheduled instructional Webinars each week. To reserve a spot, click the Webinars icon at the top of your Team Leader, Principal or Administrator Homepage.

Happy Holidays!


Music and Mathematics Meet at Carnegie Hall

BETHLEHEM, PA—Lehigh University Choral Arts performed at Carnegie Hall on November 21st, 2014, and when they did, one of the First In Math Online Program’s web designers was singing with them!

Casey Rule and other Choral Arts members.
FIM game designer Casey Rule (striped shirt) with other members of Lehigh University Choral Arts ensemble.

Casey Rule, a 2011 Lehigh graduate, is employed at Suntex International as a game designer and web developer, but spends much of the rest of his time writing choral music and singing with several choral groups, including the Lehigh University Choir. As a student, Rule studied Music Composition and Computer Science, and he was part of the first class of Lehigh students to earn an Integrated Degree in Engineering, Arts, and Sciences.

To Rule, math and music go hand-in-hand. “People often remark that my interest in both music and programming makes for an odd combination, but I have always found it to be a very natural partnership. Writing programs and writing music both involve finding the right balance of convention and creativity, and, although it’s not always obvious, both involve a great deal of math. Music, like most things, turns out to be full of math when you really understand it. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many of the musicians I’ve known were also very successful engineering students.”

Robert Sun, creator of the 24® Game and the First In Math program, has always said that the essence of math is patterns. “Whether they realize it or not, musicians and composers use mathematics to create pleasing and harmonious sounds.” Indeed, without the boundaries of rhythmic structure—an equal and regular arrangement of pulse repetition, accent, phrase and duration—music would not be possible.

Throughout history, composers have incorporated the golden ratio and Fibonacci numbers into their work, and some modern music theorists have even used abstract algebra to analyze music.

Members of the Choral Union and University Choir performed two works composed and conducted by director Dr. Steven Sametz. The performance featured Grammy Award-winning soprano Carmen Pelton, soprano Tami Petty and Metropolitan Opera tenor William Burden. In addition to singing, Rule helped organize more than 100 returning Lehigh Choral Arts alumni who joined the performance—nearly 400 singers in all.

Locke Elementary Students Excited About First In Math

PHILADELPHIA, PA—According to a recent report in The Philadelphia Tribune, one of the best-kept secrets in the School District of Philadelphia is Alain Locke Elementary School.



As Tribune staff writer Chanel Hill explains, “Locke’s vision is to offer an educational program that prepares students to get into the best high schools in the city, as well as continue their education pursuits as they earn prestigious honors and degrees in college and trades around the world.”

Locke is a K-8 school driven by strong academics and dedicated teachers, coupled with community partnerships and programs. The school offers after-school programs in math and literacy, including the First in Math Online Program. According to Hill’s report, Locke also has a partnership with nearby Drexel University that allows university students to work with Locke students in math and science.

Hill characterizes Locke students as positive, and eager to talk about their learning experiences. The article quotes first-grader Ziyan Hemingway. “Everyday I’m doing something new. I’ve learned a lot so far in my classes. My favorite subject right now is math; we’re learning how to add and subtract.”

Another student, fifth-grader Gary Carson, explains that one of the things he likes about his school is the teachers, who “do a really good job of teaching us past our grade.” He goes on to explain that math is his favorite subject and is challenged by his participation in First in Math.

In Dara Messing’s first-grade class, students will learn how to read, count money and tell time. “In math, they will be learning addition and subtraction, counting coins and telling time to the half hour,” explains Messing.

“It is so exciting to read articles like these about schools who are dedicated to academic excellence and creating a culture of success,” says First In Math creator Robert Sun. “I’m delighted that the First In Math program is an integral part of the culture at Locke Elementary.”

Louisiana Business Recognizes Math Achievement

CENTRAL, LA—In October, First In Math Online Program teams from Central Intermediate School in East Baton Rouge county celebrated a math milestone, and were excited to be featured in the local newspaper.

CI Students Earn Treat for Math Game Success

The top 30 fourth- and fifth-grade students were treated to cherry limeade drinks, toys and other goodies, compliments of Sonic Drive In of Central City, and were honored with a visit from Sippy, the Sonic mascot.

When his new restaurant came into town, owner Bryan Crowson contacted the school seeking an opportunity to recognize academic achievement. Celebrating the school’s success in the First In Math program was the perfect fit.

Teacher Milton Nall is one of the CIS math interventionists. He oversees the First In Math program for the entire school, and says it has helped some of his students graduate out of the intervention program. “We have paid more attention to it this year, and it has paid off,” says Nall. “Our school is fairly new, having only been here for three years, but I feel that FIM is already becoming part of the culture at the school.”

Nall frequently recognizes his students with certificates, bulletin boards and pizza parties, and was gratified that they also earned well-deserved recognition from the community.

Central Community School District is an “A” rated district in Louisiana State. Central Intermediate School’s FIM Rankings also earn them an “A” with us, as they are #1 in their State and #44 in Nation.

First in Math Thanksgiving Wishes

Students put the FIRST in First In Math!

We have a lot to be thankful for - including wonderful students who put the FIRST in First In Math! Best wishes from all of us at First In Math for a wonderful Thanksgiving, and we'll see you back here next week!     Armen Elliott Photography

First in Math Awards 100,000 Licenses to
Pennsylvania Schools

MECHANICSBURG, PA—The Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) recently announced an exciting new partnership with the First in Math® Online Program that will allow the association to award 100,000 one-year First in Math licenses to school districts through the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

PSBA logo

“We are extremely excited that First in Math has generously supplied 100,000 one-year licenses to districts throughout Pennsylvania,” says PSBA Director of Business Partner Development Laura Huggins. “This is a great opportunity for students in member school entities to benefit from a proven tool to improve math skills.”  

PSBA has been granted the one-year licenses and will be working with qualifying districts to place these throughout the state at no expense to the school entities. To date, more than 75 school districts have already taken advantage of this grant, with approximately 90,000 licenses already committed. November 30, 2014 is the deadline for school districts to apply.*

"Pennsylvania is our home state, and we are honored to partner with the PSBA on this and future initiatives,” says Robert Sun, inventor of the 24® game and creator of the First In Math® program. “Working together, we can show the nation how to energize every child to learn, love and live math.”

The Pennsylvania School Boards Association is a nonprofit statewide association of public school boards, pledged to the highest ideals of local lay leadership for the public schools of the commonwealth. Founded in 1895, PSBA is the first school boards association established in the United States.

*For more information on the program, district representatives should contact Laura Huggins at

Snow Day Was A First In Math GO Day for D.C. Schools

WASHINGTON, D.C.—There’s a chill in the air, and for most of us, that means winter weather is not far behind. Winter means snow, and the inevitable snow days. Students love snow days, but last winter, math educators in several Washington, D.C. schools loved them, too!


A routine check of progress reports detailing activity of DCPS students in the First In Math program showed a trend during a snow day that warranted additional tracking, and a special usage report request was sent to First In Math headquarters in Easton, PA.

“The District asked for additional, specific data from 12:01 am to 11:59 pm—a full 24 hours—on February 13, 2014, when the students were at home. They wanted to know how many students took advantage of FIM while at home on the snow day, both district-wide and at each school,” explains First In Math Executive VP Nan Ronis,

“What we discovered was that not only were students using the site, they had solved more than 51,000 math problems in a short period of time,” said Ronis, who supervised the data analysis herself. “More than 500 students logging in on a snow day piqued our curiosity, so we checked to be sure nothing skewed the statistics, but the data showed that these were all unique logins.”

Ronis says there is plenty of data available to any district through the site’s District Level Assessment Pages, but she was glad to help administrators gather additional information. “We enjoy working with large districts like DCPS, because it gives us an opportunity to learn about the type of information that is important to them.”

First In Math creator Robert Sun, who has recently authored several Huffington Post articles detailing the use of technology to boost math fluency and create a love for math, says he is “pretty happy about the fact that 500 students were honing their math skills on the FIM site during a snow day. We have no data on whether that was before or after they built snowmen,” laughs Sun.

With some weather experts predicting a snowy winter for much of the United States, snow days are something many schools are looking to address through technology.

“Your curriculum continues without that time off and you’re not just putting days at the end of the year and trying to fill those days,” Superintendent Sandra Weaver of the Metropolitan School District of Wabash County in Indiana told reporter Matt Zalanick in a recent interview. (read the full article here

Pennsylvania is the most recent state to allow e-learning when weather shuts schools, says Tim Eller, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Considering current predictions, they may have several opportunities to see the effectiveness of snow day e-learning in action. 

St. Didacus School Shows What It Means
To Be First In Math

SAN DIEGO, CA—What does it mean to be First? Webster’s defines it as, “Foremost, coming before all others.” So what does it mean to be First In Math?

For an individual, it may be proficiency at a particular level. For a classroom, perhaps it is every student striving to be their best, for a school, it indicates that math has become an important part of the learning culture.  At St. Didacus, that culture has spread outside the classroom, with more and more students playing at home.


Since St. Didacus introduced the First In Math program in 2008, they have consistently ranked in top 10 in California, holding the #1 rank every year since 2011. They also ranked #3 nationally in 2013 and #9 2014. More than 5,000 schools and 1.5 million students participated in last year’s competition and St. Didacus students solved an average of three million math problems each year to secure their top ranking.

Suntex San Diego area FIM representative Jill Henderson says she anticipates another high-ranking year for St. Didacus, who for the last four years has been the school to beat. “When training staff at other San Diego schools, I am often asked ‘what is the secret to St. Didacus’ success’ in the First In Math program. I believe that consistency, perseverance and staff support are important, along with a big emphasis on student and staff recognition—that’s what keeps students totally engaged and energized.”

First In Math employs a learning technique know as Deep Practice. Through deep practice, skills that normally take months of regular practice can be mastered in a much shorter period of time—regardless of the learner’s skill level. Students who need remedial work have the opportunity to improve, while those who are advanced can work ahead and challenge themselves.

“This unique learning platform gives every child the advantage he or she needs to be their own personal best,” says Henderson. “When you add up all these firsts, you definitely have a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.”

New Jersey Students Become Contemporary
Math Warriors

MOUNT OLIVE, NJ—Recently, the Mount Olive Chronicle reported that students at Mountain View School are finding inspiration in the First In Math Online program—an important component of math instruction and enrichment at the New Jersey school for several years.

The most recent statistics available indicate that Mountain View students have completed more than two million math problems and are ranked #2 in New Jersey.

Contemporary math warrior Robert Sun, who inspires students as the creator of the FIM program, is the descendant of another great thinker and strategist.

“First In Math makes students forget they are even learning because they get wrapped up into the games,” explains Gloria Silva, a basic math skills teacher at the school who did extensive research on learning through game play while completing her masters degree in education. “First In Math also lets kids move at their own pace which puts them in control of their own learning.”

The story explains that students play in class as directed by their teachers, but are logging the majority of their time on the site at home. The First In Math Online program has a unique “Family Link” feature that automatically generates a family User ID once a child solves a predetermined number of math problems. Family members are learning and refreshing their skills as they work alongside their child.

First In Math modules reinforce mastery of basic facts, decimals, fractions, integers, exponents, variables and order of operations. Many of the games introduce principles of algebra as early as kindergarten, first and second grade.

According to Dhruva Raghuraman, a student in Caralynn Ferrara’s fourth grade class, “The games are fun because they improve your skills and bring you up to what you can do. They learn what you can do and make things harder and more challenging as you go.”

The article also brought to light the fact that Robert Sun—creator of the First In Math program—is one of Sun Tzu’s descendants. Sun Tzu was a Chinese general, strategist and philosopher. He is the author of The Art of War, an extremely influential ancient book on military strategy.

Sun was excited to read about the Mount Olive success. He also enjoyed the additional historical information that lent an interesting slant to the article, but noticed a few amusing inaccuracies. “The article states that: ‘Sun is a 29th generation descendant of Sun Tzu,’ but assuming there are about 30 years in a generation, that puts us about 900 years apart. The problem is that Sun Tzu lived in the Spring and Autumn period of around 500 BC. If their statement is interpreted exactly as stated, I would have lived around 400 AD, right around the fall of the Roman Empire! My genealogical research indicates that Sun Tzu was in the 29th generation of our family tree, while I am in the 112th generation—which puts us 83 generations, or about 2,500 years, apart. I much prefer to be right here in present time!”

Through its interactive games tailored for each grade level, First In Math is developing students’ math fluency as it strengthens their problem-solving, critical thinking and communication skills. All valuable assets for the contemporary math warrior!

See More Articles in the News Archive

FIM 2014 Champion:

Josephine Nguyen

2014 Honorable Mention

Shangyu Andrew Xu (CT)
Julia Long (MD)
Thanusha Mathiyalagan (CA)
Aiko Yamauchi (PA)
Pranav Sundararajan (CT)
Adriana Cortes (FL)
Daniel Wang, Jr. (PA)
Vy Trinh-Nguyen (PA)

Team Leaders
Mathew David Morse (CA)
Maribel C. Ordonez (PA)
Lisa Leider (PA)
Adam Yaller (MA)
Stephanie Williams-Nykamp (PA)
Lisa Weingartner (OK)
Allyson Rusnov (OH)
Samuel Allison (MA)
Scott Colin (CA)
Jo Warren (PA)
Ken McKinney
Br. Gerald Hopeck (MD)

Manatee Bay ES (FL)
S C Lee Junior HS (TX)
Bishop Mussio Ctl JS (OH)
St. Francis Desales School (PA)
St. Veronica School (PA)
St. Laurence School (PA)
Baldi MS (PA)
Sacred Heart School (PA)
St. Didacus School (CA)
St. Gabriel's School (PA)

Visit the First in Math®
Hall of Fame!

Do you have a story you'd like to share?

Email your school's FIM News or photos to:

If submitting a photo, be sure to identify all persons in the photo in the body of your email.

We will reply via email if we would like to use your picture. Before we can publish your picture, you will need to obtain asigned Release Form from each person, it's easy:

1. Select a form below:
Student Release Form
Student Release Form (Spanish) 
Adult Release Form

2. Forms will download to your computer's download folder (usually Desktop) as PDF files.

3. Print as many forms as you need. Fax signed forms to:
610-258-2180, attention FIM NEWS & NOTES.