FIM News

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!

Energizing Every Child to Learn, Love & Live Math

EASTON, PA—Recently, we conducted formal interviews with educators who use the First In Math Online Program to find out, in their own words, how we help them achieve their goals. We wanted to understand more about the true value and emotional benefit that First In Math Online provides. The results are in, and the main takeaway is that educators consider us their partner in “Energizing Every Child to Learn, Love & Live Math.”

How do we do that?


The First In Math program taps into a different way that children learn, the same way their brains work in the real world. Students exposed to this natural form of learning—one that combines creative and logical thought—are far more engaged than they would be with rote drills.

We have spent more than 20 years in classrooms all over the world—including a multi-year case study in the early 1990’s in Bronx, NY schools—to help forge the concepts that would later be honed through implementations and evaluations in districts such as Philadelphia, Cleveland, San Diego and National City, CA. Those years of in-depth analysis, coupled with our commitment to continuous improvement and innovation, have helped us develop a unique and highly-engaging learning system that motivates students through creative educational games and modules.

Some of the strongest feelings expressed in the interviews were not about improved test scores or raw data, but how teachers felt the program helped their students.

“Students come to see the application of math and how it applies to life situations.”

“Students experience the best of both worlds – learning & fun.”

“Math comes alive for students through their personal on-line games and curriculum.”

“Each student enters the program at his or her own comfort and skill level.”

Many educators felt that because the program is structured to allow entry at any level, the stigma of “starting from the beginning” is removed and each child can become energized immediately. Couple this with the fact that each child learns in a non-judgmental way—protected from peer pressure—and teachers have a resource with the ability to deliver truly individualized instruction that motivates students.

“You can tailor the curriculum to best connect with the child through every phase of his or her development.”

“You have the confidence to know that you are bringing one of the best math learning tools
available to your students.”

“You can personally participate with your students in their math development.”

“You are providing positive reinforcement to the child that inspires them to want to do well.”

You will begin to see the phrase “Energizing Every Child to Learn, Love & Live Math" featured prominently on the First In Math site. Not only because we believe it to be true, but because we are thrilled to know that those who use First In Math think so, too!

The Best Way to Learn? Flip Some Stones

A continuing series by former teacher and current FIM Implementation Specialist Shawn Collier.

Flipping Stones. That was once an answer I gave in a job interview for a teaching position. No, the question was not “How do you find bugs?”  The interviewers wanted to know what kind of environment I would have in my classroom, how I would engage my students.


They were puzzled with my answer, as you may be, so I added context. 

I grew up a country boy in Potter County, Pennsylvania.  We didn’t have a TV or a computer, the store was 10 miles away, and I saw more cows than I did people.  However I had something that allowed me—in this environment where there was nothing to learn—to love learning.

I had a place to “play” that was filled with opportunities, and I also had guidance to focus my play. For example, when I was allowed go to the barn, and what time to be home for dinner. This allowed me to have a structure in my environment, but didn’t tell me what to do in my environment.

It started with a simple thought, ‘I wonder what’s under there?’ Mostly there were dirt, bugs and worms, but some days I found SNAKES!  And in the creeks I found CRAYFISH!  The little boy in me was hooked.  I spent every day in the fields, in the creeks, wondering what I could find.

I still find myself doing this. I still flip rocks with my kids when I visit Potter County, but now I see the greater purpose. It taught me how to wonder about things. Why do snakes like hay bales?  Why did those bees think under a rock was a good hiding place? How could I run SO much faster when bees were chasing me than when I played baseball? No one told me I had to have these thoughts, nobody made me go out and learn something everyday—I was simply given an engaging environment to play in and some guidance regarding how to interact with that environment. 

Now when I’m asked the best ways to use First In Math I give the same answer: Flip Stones.  Play with math.  Be amazed at what new things you learn.  Provide guidance (or ask for guidance) when needed.  But ultimately, allow First In Math to be the engaging environment that students own and walk back into each day.  Not because someone makes them—because they choose to.

Tech Tips to Keep You First In Math

Our desktop computers, laptops and phones have become more than something we use to get work done. They are our constant companions, and we rely on them for almost everything. So, even minor issues can seem like disasters, causing stress and a disruption in our work—and our play.


Fortunately, when using an online resource like the First In Math Online Program, there are some simple ‘tricks’ that can get you back on track quickly and with relative ease.

From time to time when browsing websites you may need to reset (empty) your web browser's Internet cache. The Internet cache is temporary storage area where locally-saved copies of recent web pages you have visited and frequently accessed data such as images are stored for rapid access. Clearing your web browser cache forces the browser to load the latest versions of web pages and programs you visit. Deleting it will not harm your computer. If your browser has an option to preserve data for bookmarked sites and you have bookmarked FIM, make sure this option is not enabled.

Prevention is always a good approach. Be sure to keep the web browser(s) you use up-to-date. If your system prompts you to install an update, doing so at your earliest convenience will go a long way toward keeping your Internet experience problem-free.

On desktop computers or laptops, pages that appear to be missing content (such as the Player ‘Hub’) can sometimes be fixed by emptying the cache. If that does not work, it may signal a conflict with third-party software, such as Adobe Flash Player. Updating your version of Flash to the most current version your device can handle (minimum version 11) will fix the problem.

If you have a current, valid First In Math User ID and Password but experience problems signing into FIM, it is usually a ‘Cookie’ issue. A Cookie a small piece of data sent from a website and stored in your web browser while you browse that website. FIM servers receive data via the Cookie to record the number of stickers earned and track the progress of game play. Be sure your web browser is set to allow cookies. (If you choose not accept cookies, you should be able to manually add to your browser’s "accepted/safe" list.)

Even if you are not an Internet guru, most website issues can be resolved easily. Gather information about exactly what problem you are having, and access our extensive HELP/FAQ page or our Troubleshooting page, where the answers to many common questions can be found.

Getting Things Right in Oklahoma City Schools

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK—In the Oklahoma City School District viewing area, “What’s Right with Our Schools” has become a popular segment on NBC-affiliate KFOR’s Channel 4 News. It’s an optimistic feature in the midst of the predominantly negative news that monopolizes the evening broadcast.

FIM Featured on Oklahoma City Channel 4 News
Recently, the show’s producer contacted Debra Knight, an advocate for the First In Math Online Program who lives and works in the area. He invited her to select a school to showcase for the first segment of the 2014-2015 school year.

“It was a really fascinating process! They took more than two hours of interviews and footage and edited it down to this segment,” explains Knight.

The highlighted school, Greystone Upper Elementary, implemented First In Math in 2012. Principal Sandy Jackson is delighted with his teachers’ and students’ response to the First In Math program, stating “The way this math is packaged, they want to do these problems!”

JIM NORTON TOYOTA presented Principal Jackson with a check for $600 in recognition of the school’s significant improvement in math proficiency.

In the words of reporter Meg Alexander, “Inspiring students and motivating them to be First In Math is another example of what’s right with our schools.”

View the full segment here.

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)

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