BETHLEHEM, PA—Suntex International, parent company of the First In Math® Online Program, is partnering with the Bethlehem Area School District (BASD) to conduct a three-year analysis of student gains in fact fluency. The study will focus on automaticity with math facts, as well as fluency in mental math for adding and subtracting double-digit numbers.
In August, First In Math creator, Robert Sun, and Implementation Specialist, Monica Patel, participated in District PD sessions to present an overview of the program to third-grade teachers. The team detailed a new, premium-content feature known as the VIFs™ system.
VIFs, short for Very Important Facts™, is the quickest path to fact fluency, according to Sun. “Too many students find math difficult—and may even get left behind—simply because they do not achieve basic fact-fluency by third grade.” Combining short instructional videos with digital games, the VIFs system helps students become automatic with basic facts, better preparing them for higher-level math.
The end goal of the District is for students to be able to add and subtract double-digit numbers using mental math by the end of third grade. In Year One, 70% of students completing third grade will be expected to demonstrate proficiency in adding and subtracting double-digit numbers. In Year Two the goal is 80%, and the Year Three benchmark is 90% of students leaving third grade. Students are considered proficient if they complete both the VIFs Add and Subtract modules.
All BASD schools and grades will have access to the VIFs, but only third-grade data will be analyzed. The district will also assess PSSA scores over the same three-year period.
“Meetings will be scheduled with BASD teachers and principals to get feedback, and we will visit schools on a regular basis to both train and observe the students working in VIFs, says Patel.
BETHLEHEM, PA—Schools who are already a part of the First In Math family are aware that it builds and reinforces a wide range of math skills through the power of digital gaming. They also know that the program fosters unparalleled student engagement when compared to other online math resources. But they may not know that new, premium content is available for subscribers: the VIFs™ system.
Teacher John Phillips and his third grade class at Marvine Elementary were among the first to try the new VIFs™ system. photo ©John Phillips
VIFs—short for Very Important Facts™—is the quickest path to fact fluency. Using clear, concise instructional videos integrated with digital games, the VIFs system helps students become automatic with basic facts, better preparing them for higher-level math.
“Too many students find math difficult, and may even get left behind, because they do not achieve basic fact-fluency early-on,” according to First In Math creator Robert Sun.
Sun, who did extensive research before designing the new module, describes it this way: “The best athletes have their basic moves down cold, virtually automatic, freeing their conscious mind to approach their game at a higher level. It’s the same with math: students need to become automatic with basic facts.”
“The VIFs™ system is an efficient way to master basic facts in all four operations, helping students uncover the 16 facts they need to know from memory,” says Sun. “Once this foundation is built, students will learn how to decompose numbers and discover a straightforward way to add and subtract numbers—even double digits.”
“VIFs may sound like a short cut, and in many ways it is,” explains FIM Implementation Specialist Monica Patel. “The unique three-tier system isolates essential rules and fundamentals that students must master to develop automaticity—instead of the hundreds of facts they are typically expected to memorize—but they’re still learning everything they need to know.”
VIFs short instruct/play/feedback loops help students learn to perform mental math with automaticity, according to Sun. “A short cycle of play is very important. It syncs with the way today’s student consumes information and executes tasks. Most of all, it gives the moment-to-moment feedback and reward children so desperately crave.”
The optional VIFs system is available to schools that select First In Math to provide the practice their students need to succeed in math. There is one annual, fixed site-license cost per school for both the Add and Subtract modules.
In addition to VIFs, First In Math still offers ALL of the great modules schools know and love: Practice GYMs to build fact fluency with whole numbers, fractions, decimals, & integers; Know & Show activities to target specific grade-level practice in solving word problems and an incredible variety of activities that incorporate Deep Practice techniques to reinforce essential math skills.
MALVERN, PA—Sister Georgiana Connell I.H.M. has spent her whole life serving others, so it is no surprise that when she found herself unpacking her suitcase at Camilla Hall, a Convent home & healthcare center for Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, her first thought was “what can I do to help others while I am here?”
Left: Sister Marie Isabell listens intently as “Sister G” talks tech. Right: The Friday class always looks forward to their First In Math time.
Sister Georgiana teaches grades K through 4 Spanish at Sacred Heart School in Lancaster, PA. She is also Sacred Heart’s First In Math® Online Program coordinator, and has helped the tiny school become very successful on a national level, often placing among the National Top Ten Schools in the Small School category. She also plays, and was ranked 14th in the nation among all participating Educators in 2016.
While at Camilla Hall to rehabilitate a foot injury, she encouraged Sacred Heart students and teachers from a distance, but wanted to do more. “Camilla is blessed with dedicated employees who give their all for the Sisters, and they inspired me to help motivate some of the permanent residents in one of the best ways I know—through the First In Math program,” says Sr. Georgiana.
She got permission to use the laptop cart, and began regular classes every Friday to introduce and use the First In Math program. In addition to residents, some of the Sisters who work at Camilla Hall also joined the fun. Participants range in age from 50 to 90 years old.
Slowly, everyone noticed something magical was happening. First In Math became a topic of spirited discussion at lunch, or at other times when groups were gathered together. “Sisters like reviewing the math concepts as well as learning new things about computers,” according to Sr. Georgiana. “They’re having fun, and it has helped them develop another common bond.” The program became so popular that some Sisters were gifted new iPads so they could use the website whenever they wanted.
"It is a great joy to watch young students gain confidence as they learn, and it is the same here—age is irrelevant, everyone can learn," says Sister Georgiana. “First In Math is a perfect platform for any educational setting, because it’s not just the complete spectrum of math skills, the activities improve critical thinking, encourage creativity and keep the mind sharp.”
“Whether a person is 9 or 90, they are able to choose games that they can relate to, and this helps them master the skills they need,” explains Sister Georgiana. “Plus, First In Math’s friendly competition creates a wonderful camaraderie that can be invaluable—perhaps even priceless—in situations like this, as well as in the classroom.”
First In Math creator, Robert Sun, a long-time supporter of Sister Georgiana, sent a balloon bouquet along with his encouragement. “As a child, I was welcomed and supported by the Sisters of the IHM at St. Francis DeSales School in West Philadelphia, and they had a significant impact on my life and the direction I took in my career. I am so happy and proud to be in the position to continue to encourage this effort.”
Sister Georgiana returned to school in September, and says leaving Camilla Hall in July was bittersweet. But there is a plan in place. “Sister Pat Cabrey and Sister Barbara Bamberger are now coordinating the program and will continue with their own FIM Teams,” according to First In Math Project Coordinator Nancy Kane, who verified that Sun has donated licenses for two Camilla Hall Teams.
“Bringing First In Math to students around the world has been very rewarding—this opportunity to spread some excitement and challenge to the Sisters at Camilla Hall brings the feeling to a new level,” says Sun. “I truly appreciate all of the hard work, dedication and commitment these wonderful people bring to the lives of others.”
WESTON, FL—For the fourth straight year, students from Manatee Bay Elementary School in Weston, FL have secured a First In Math® Online Program National Championship.
Caption: The Top Ten players in the school, along with Principal Heather Hedman-DeVaughn, bottom right. Back row, far left: FIM rep Mark Losey and Gigi Forsman, Broward County's Elementary Math Supervisor—far right is Laurie Rich Levinson, School Board of Broward County member. Far right middle row, former student Janae Bell.
In the All Schools National Ranking, the Top 100 Students at Manatee Bay averaged 17,660 Stickers per student, breaking the record they set last year of 17,158 stickers per student.
In addition, Mantee Bay had four teams among the Top Ten Teams in the Nation, All Grades: Alive71fl - Team Leader Annejeanette Washington (3rd); Silk43fl - Team Leader Samuel Allison (4th); Flair97fl - Team Leader Lisa Weingartner (7th) and Skill47fl - Team Leader Lisa Leider (10th).
Principal Heather Hedman-DeVaughn—a driving force for First In Math success at Manatee Bay—is understandably proud. "My message to students was to see and feel the power of when individuals get together for a common purpose. They have proved that individually we can do great things—but collectively we can do even more! I am so proud of them and so fortunate to have teachers who lead and encourage this kind of life changing success."
Long-time First In Math Florida representative Mark Losey has been to the Broward County school several times, but this visit left him even more impressed. “My word for Manatee Bay is persistent,” says Losey. “They just don’t give up on a goal.”
According to Losey, the entire Manatee Bay community exhibits what FIM creator Robert Sun likes to call ‘Social Math’ at it's finest. “Through First In Math, and with the guidance of some amazing educators, these students have been practicing the four C's that lead to 21st-Century skill acquisition all year long,” says Losey.
Losey spells out the four C’s as: “COMMUNICATING together to encourage and lend guidance, COLLABORATING to maximize progress for each minute invested, CRITICAL THINKING and solving problems—not just with math but with time constraints, access constraints, naysayers, and any other inhibitors keeping them from their ultimate goal—and last but not least, CREATIVITY, including developing advanced strategies to keep excitement and the energy level high all year to reach a goal.”
In addition to Losey, there was also a surprise guest. Janae Bell was in fifth grade when Manatee Bay initially brought in the First in Math program. This fall she will begin her sophomore year at Harvard. “Janae attributed her First in Math experience as one that helped lead her to such a high level of success—that means a lot to all of us,” says Losey.
Lisa Weingartner was Bell’s fifth-grade teacher, and remains an active advocate for First In Math, leading one of this year’s top four teams in the nation.
HOUSTON, TX—Wilson Academy, part of the Aldine Independent School District, is proud to be home to the top-ranked First In Math team, among all sixth-grade teams, in Texas. They are also ranked 24th nationally at the sixth-grade level.
Left to right: Sixth-grade Math Teacher and First in Math Team Leader Monica Leija; Christina Duong; Johnny Ho; Renny Hoang and Principal Dana Baker.
“I couldn’t wait to share the news and celebrate our sixth grade First In Math State Champions,” says proud sixth-grade math Teacher Monica Leija. “I am very excited about what these students have accomplished.“ The team averaged 7,885 Stickers per student.
“I want to especially congratulate the top three scorers on the 'ACE75TX' Championship team—who were also the top three players in the state: Johnny Ho (19,270 stickers), Christina Duong (18,866 stickers) and Renny Hoang (18,750 stickers),” says Leija. “These were their totals at the end of April, but I am happy to report that these students are continuing to achieve and earn more stickers.”
Uwe Langhammer, Wilson Instructional Technology Specialist, is excited about what all of the students have accomplished. “Wilson students solved more than THREE MILLION math problems during the FIM competition on their way to becoming the top-ranked intermediate school in Texas.”
First In Math Texas representative Tony Morrow monitored the school’s progress and stayed in contact throughout the year. “Many thanks to Tony, his constant support during the year was a big help,” says Langhammer.
Wilson Academy is an International Baccalaureate (IB) school. Founded in 1968, the IB is a program of international education “designed to help students develop intellectual, personal, emotional and social skills needed to live, learn and work in a rapidly globalizing world.”
KING OF PRUSSIA, PA—It is always a thrill to highlight positive inroads to math education made by schools and districts that implement First In Math, and Upper Merion Area School District is one such example.
Meridith McKee’s 1st grade class at Caley Elementary School.
“Our students are loving First in Math,” says Sean W. Gardiner, Ed.D., Director of STEM Education Curriculum and Instruction for the Upper Merion Area School District. “During one of our recent 4th grade Variety Shows, a student listed First in Math as one of her hobbies. Pretty cool!”
Gardiner says enthusiasm for First In Math is high among teachers and parents, as well. One teacher described her feeling for the First In Math program very succinctly: “Overwhelmingly positive.” In fact, Gardiner relayed so many wonderful teacher comments that we decided to share them with you, as-is!
“I absolutely love First in Math. My kids started the year (based on my SLO) averaging 0/20 known multiplication facts. Based on their January SLO assessment they are now averaging 17/20. I attribute this directly to First in Math. Overall I love the program, how the kids are progressing, and the direct correlation it has with mastering the basic facts.”
“First in Math has been great for my students. It provides review/practice of many different concepts. I like the Player of a Day, and so do my students—they ask me every morning who the Player of the Day is but they already know, because they are checking every morning before school!”
“The kids seem to really enjoy it. We have played it during our computer time and they all get excited about earning stickers. It's nice to see them enthusiastic while doing math! In the past, there have always been some kids who complain about websites—but I haven't had one complaint yet.”
“The program is great fun for students and leaves a positive taste about ‘math’ in their mouths. Good for both reinforcement and extension.”
“The kids really love it. I love that they are practicing their facts for later problem solving.”
“My 5th graders are obsessed with First In Math, and they get excited about being one of the top classes.”
“I really like using First in Math in class. Even when I don't assign it, students will choose to play. I like that they can play a game quickly, or spend more time on other games depending on how much time they have.”
“I began to show them how I can see what areas they have practiced and mastered—which was exciting. It is also a great tool to be able to show them how to challenge themselves. They do gravitate to where they feel confident, but they are starting to branch out.”
“Most of the students in my classroom seem to really love First in Math. It seems to be motivating to them and it seems like it is holding their interest.”
“I use First in Math mostly as a warm-up activity for the skill deficits that I see in the students. They spend a lot of time in the integers and fractions sections now to bolster their basic skills.”
DREXELBROOK, PA—At their Annual Spring Fling fundraising event, the Metropolitan Philadelphia Area Chapter (MPAC) of the Continental Societies, Inc. presented First In Math Ambassador, Cred U. Dobson, with a Power of One Award.
Left: Event Co-Chair Madeline Brown presents the Power of One Award to Dobson. Right: Dobson gifts an illustration of the famous Little Rock Nine—signed by Minnijean Brown-Trickey—to MPAC President Jackie Greene.
MPAC President Jacqueline Greene explained that five focus areas—health, education, employment, recreation, arts & humanities—guide the organization’s mission: “to create environments within our communities that empower children in Philadelphia, Delaware and Montgomery counties to have access to quality and appropriate opportunities to reach their optimal potential.”
Each year, individuals and/or companies who exemplify the MPAC mission are recognized. Dobson, a life-long Philadelphia educator, was one of four 2016 honorees. After accepting his award, Dobson presented Greene with a signed illustration of the “Little Rock Nine” to recognize her contributions to the Society and her unwavering dedication to children.
Madeline Brown, event co-chair, says that MPAC doubled its efforts to exceed last year’s scholarship fundraiser, allowing them to support more young people who are about to begin college or who are currently enrolled in college.
The April 12 event was attended by approximately 650 guests from as far away as New York and Washington, D.C., and was received a full-page feature in the “Out & About” column in the Lifestyles section of the Philly Tribune.
Continental Societies, Inc. is an international philanthropic and public service organization founded in 1956 and incorporated nationally in 1972. The organization is composed of more than 43 chapters in 17 states, the District of Colombia and Bermuda and has served more than one million children over the last five years.
PHILADELPHIA, PA—Eighth-grader Tyquaill Thomas has attended 16 schools since kindergarten, but when he walks through the doors at Dobson Elementary School in Philadelphia, he knows he has finally found a school that he looks forward to attending every day.
It’s been a long road and Thomas has overcome many obstacles. These days, he feels a great sense of pride about his recent academic accomplishments, and great dedication to both his school and the community.
“This school holds you up to the best standards possible,” says Thomas, whose road to success began when the First In Math program was introduced just before winter break. A contest was presented to the students—the top 15 scorers over break would have lunch with Interim Principal Marco Zanoni.
Before leaving AMY Northwest, Zanoni led that school to National Top-Ten status within the First In Math program. Zanoni accepted the interim position at Dosbon ES in October, 2015.
“Marco is back in action, and it’s great to see how he always puts children first—I love this guy,” says former educator and First In Math Ambassador Cred Dobson, who has worked with Zanoni in some capacity for more than 30 years. “Marco likes to meet, talk to and get to know each of the students in the school individually—that is why he does these things like this.”
“The students always enjoy contests,” says school secretary Michelle Cohen. The contest was indeed motivating for Thomas, who set a personal goal to be #1 in the First In Math program by the end of Winter Break.
"Mathematics is not about numbers, equations; it is about understanding,” says Thomas, who says he enjoys the challenges offered on the First In Math site.
“This young man’s success is somewhat of a personal point of pride—if you only could understand the back story of this amazing kid,” says Zanoni. “I was delighted to see that his FIM luncheon—and his achievement—was celebrated by his peers all over the school.”
SAN FRANCISCO, CA—Educators! Join the First In Math team—and more than 9,000 of your peers—at the 2016 National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Annual Meeting & Exposition April 14-16 in San Francisco.
During exhibit hours, Thursday through Saturday, First In Math representatives will be at Booth 431 to give one-on-one demonstrations and answer your questions about how to create the most effective implementation. Ask us why First In Math® is the most effective, cost-efficient supplemental math program available—and how our digital-gaming technology has helped “build a bridge to student success” since 2002.
WASHINGTON, DC—First In Math March Math Madness once again swept through the Washington D.C. Public Schools, creating a buzz around mathematics in classrooms throughout the district. “The play was incredible—and unpredictable,” says Lauren Allen, Coordinator of STEM Integration for the Office of Teaching and Learning, DCPS.
“I am very excited to see how much this event has grown each year,” says First In Math creator Robert Sun. “I want to congratulate all participants, and recognize the top sticker-earner during the month of March, Beverly Lee, from Watkins ES.”
Left: Top-scorer Beverly Lee uses First in Math almost daily. According to her teacher, Elizabeth O'Donnell, Beverly loves to earn stickers for the class, and sometimes gets up at 6 a.m. to log in and play! Right: The final bracket, and a Goals Index icon.
During the three-week elimination-style playoff, schools have to solve more math problems per-student than their opponent—over a two-day period—to advance. Grade level or proficiency doesn’t matter as there are hundreds of modules that can engage any skill level—what matters is effort and persistence in math practice. “We look only at growth during each round,” explains Allen. After a tie between Eaton ES and Van Ness ES in the Elite Eight round, the Final Four became five as Key ES, Patterson ES, Stuart-Hobson MS, Eaton ES and Van Ness ES battled to advance to the Championship round.
Van Ness Elementary emerged victorious over Key ES in the Championship round. Teacher Michelle Johnson took to social media with this message: “Congrats to our hard working Van Ness Otters for winning the Math Madness Competition!”
March Math Madness was one of two First In Math competitions held this year to engage students. Patterson ES won the Fall Fact Face-Off, which motivated schools to integrate FIM into their classrooms. While exciting, competitions such as these are not the only tools to help reach schools, according to Suntex Executive Vice President Nan Ronis.
“At the start of this school year, DCPS Math Director David Goodrich established a district objective that called for all schools to reach a First In Math Goal Index of at least 50. Teams and students would focus on that target—the interest in sustained activity being part of the school-year priority,” explains Ronis.
Ronis says that the importance of positive math experiences for young students cannot be emphasized enough, which is why tracking progress, setting goals and making math a real-world experience matter. Sun agrees. “When young children are actively engaged—in motivating activities like the DCPS/First In Math event—we are setting them on the road to real exploring and learning. Motivating the youngest learners and instilling a love of math is so vital.”
In the grades 3-8 category, schools such as Ross ES (77.2) and Hardy MS (59.7) have already surpassed the goal. Many others—Stuart-Hobson MS (46.9), Key ES (43.6) and Eaton ES (42.7)—are getting close. It is no coincidence that many of these schools performed well in the Math Madness tournament. “Ross ES boasts a perfect 25 out of 25 on the Activity Index and a whopping 21.2 on the Fact Fluency Index – those are great numbers, and show that their students are ahead of the curve where basic math skills are concerned,” says Ronis.
SAN DIEGO, CA—In March, a group of Valencia Park Elementary students who call themselves “Crockett’s Achievers” wrote a proposal to their teacher, Tamyka Crockett, offering 20 reasons why the First In Math Online program should be purchased for their classroom.
All 19 “Crockett’s Achievers” from Room 204 at Valencia ES contributed to the First In Math proposal.
Crockett shared the letter with Principal Lori Moore, who requested a meeting with some of the students. “The students prepared their evidence to argue the claim that First in Math is beneficial for all. These future leaders, lawyers, and CEOs convinced Ms. Moore—and a panel—that First in Math is worth the time and money to improve math fluency school wide,” says Crockett.
Each student offered a reason, and together they added one more, for a total of 20 reasons why they felt First in Math was necessary to their math education. Here are some highlights:
• It allows you to practice skills in depth. (Yehira)
• Everyone in the school will have access. Students with iPads can’t use some
other programs. (Mason)
• It helps with math fluency. (Anthony)
• First in Math is challenging. (Kassidy)
• First in Math is fun! (Kaelyn)
• You have opportunities to try again without feeling bad. (Chloe)
• More choices, you don’t feel stuck. (Ajani)
• You can control your learning. (Melanie R)
• Sound effects and graphics are modern. (Marissa)
• Headphones aren’t a necessity. (Alyson)
• First in Math updates with new games. (Julissa)
• We like the announcements for Player and Team of the Week. (Melanie A)
• Competition among fellow students. (Alexander)
• Families can play together! (Room 204)
Principal Moore believes that the First In Math program should be a good fit for her students. “We are one of four schools in the San Diego Unified School District that received a three-year grant to build STEAM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Art-Math) at our school. This will enable us to integrate rigorous academic concepts with real world experiences.”
Crockett is proud of her students, and she enjoys working with them every day. “Teaching is my passion. These students want to learn, and the letter they wrote to me is a great example of that. I see great things in these kids as learners—and as people.”
FREDRICKSBURG, VA—During the annual Family Math Expo held by Stafford County schools, an ESL teacher looking for some help with a few students not fluent in English wandered into the First In Math lab.
“She did not know much about First In Math, and at first probably wondered why I was trying to show her how a mathematics program could help out with her language issues,” says long-time First In Math Virginia representative Brock Estes.
Estes showed her First In Math in several languages on his Mac laptop, and also had the computer read some questions aloud from the Know & Show 5&6 module. “She loved it, of course. Aside from being impressed by the power of the program just for the math itself, I think she saw quickly how math could be another way to work with her kids, whereas before she was almost entirely focused on the language arts arena and other textual studies.”
“First In Math has always been a top-notch math supplement that I recommend to all my schools, but I think this multiple language feature can have a significant impact in many classrooms, and I am excited to be able to offer it, says Estes.”
How does it work? By taking advantage of some already-existing technology that is native to Apple (Mac) devices.
“We recently upgraded our architecture so that we can now offer the entire FIM site—including all the Know & Show word problems—in almost any language,” says First In Math creator Robert Sun. “K&S word problems can also be read aloud in Spanish, or any other language, using the text-to-audio features built into any Mac.”
Currently, any computer, laptop or tablet with an iOS operating system running the Google Chrome browser can provide automatic language translation on the fly—written on the screen, or read aloud. (FIM programmers are working to document easy instructions that will help schools enable this feature for PCs, as well.)
Sun sees this expanded access as an important feature for ESL students—and their families. “Because First In Math offers parents their own User ID and Password through the Family Link feature, showing Spanish speaking parents how to access First In Math in their native language may serve as a more welcoming invitation to participate in their child’s education.”
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