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 the latest feature in our continuing series about former champions.
BETHLEHEM, PA—Former 24 Challenge® Regional Champion Alex Knoll is now an educator at Palmerton Senior High School where he teaches Honors Calculus, Honors Algebra II, and Geometry.
Former 24 Challenge® Regional Champ Alex Knoll says the importance of consistent practice in golf—and math—cannot be discounted. (Photo: Express-Times File Photo | BILL ADAMS | June 2014)
While attending Nitschmann Junior High, Knoll was the Lehigh Valley Regional Champion, making his first trip to the Pennsylvania state finals as a sixth-grader. Continuing his winning ways, he made it to the final round of the state event the next two years in a row, placing second both times.
“When I didn’t win in sixth or seventh grade it made me practice that much more for my last attempt as an eighth-grader,” recalls Knoll. “I practiced every night because I knew other kids were doing the same. It was tough to finish second again, but it was a good experience I’ll never forget.”
“My father helped me fall in love with mathematics,” says Knoll, who explains that he and his dad would practice the 24® game together. Knoll’s father, Bruce, works with computer systems. When the math-loving sixth-grader was interviewed for an article that appeared in the June 12, 1997 edition of The Morning Call newspaper, Knoll remembers his answer when asked to describe his practice system: “I play my dad, who I usually kill.”
Now 29, Knoll is a graduate of Liberty High School and Davidson College. In addition to his academic teaching position, Knoll is the top Assistant PGA Golf Professional at the Bethlehem Golf Club, and especially treasures helping junior golfers develop their potential.
He is the 2005 Pennsylvania State Amateur Champion, and the 2005/2006 Lehigh Valley Golfer of the Year. In 2014, he placed second in the Doylestown Open and was 47th at the PGA Professional National Championship at the Dunes Golf & Beach Club and Grande Dunes Resort Club in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He recently placed 14th in the Lehigh Valley Open at Northampton Country Club.
According to Knoll, who began golfing at age eight, the importance of consistent practice in golf—and math—cannot be discounted. “The way you think about math problems is step-by-step and golf is the same, because you go step-by-step to be sure you have positioned yourself in the best possible way.”
“I feel certain that I developed important skills and the discipline to practice when I was in middle school working with the 24 game,” says Knoll. “Those early experiences helped me then, and will continue helping me throughout my life.”
Click here for more information on the 24 Challenge® at 24game.com
SCHNECKSVILLE, PA—A nation-wide phenomenon in the 1990’s, Suntex 24 Challenge® Tournaments are being revived in a big way throughout Pennsylvania in 2015.
Several of the Keystone state’s regional Intermediate Units will be hosting tournaments for students in grades four through eight, according to Suntex VP Barbara Asteak. “Pennsylvania IU’s are very important, providing technology-rich instructional and operational services to public school districts, charter and private schools throughout the state,” explains Asteak. “IU’s function as a link between the Pennsylvania Department of Education and local school districts.”
Top photo, l to r: Grade 7/8 Grand Champion: Danielle Shapiro – Penn Kidder & LB Morris, Jim Thorpe. Grade 6 Grand Champion: Sabrina Safadi – Catasauqua MS, Catasauqua. Grade 4/5 Grand Champion: Michael Whittland - Willow Lane, East Penn. Bottom photo: Joe Page (far left) and Whitehall-Coplay High School’s Mu Alpha Theta members.
Asteak and several other representatives from Suntex attended the first of the IU-sponsored tournaments on February 11, 2015 at the Carbon-Lehigh IU 21 in Schnecksville, located in the eastern part of the state.
More than 80 students, accompanied by teachers and parents, came to the CLIU 21’s Central Office building to test their 24® Game skills, playing against students from several school districts around the two-county region.
Joe Page, Educational Technologies Specialist for the department of Curriculum & Instruction at IU 21, organized the event. “The math skills and abilities of these students are truly inspiring and somewhat astonishing. Every student here, including the fourth graders, could blow me out of the water—and I am a former high school math teacher."
The competition’s proctors were Whitehall-Coplay High School’s Mu Alpha Theta members, the school’s top mathematics students. MAT’s advisor, Jason Ruch, was also impressed with the level of math mastery, “This competition is certainly helping to prepare young students to not only be ready for the rigors that await when they get to high school and beyond, but to also experience how much fun math can be.”
“Everyone had fun, and the whole event was exciting—the last championship round especially so,” says Suntex Project Manager Sande Phillips. “The intensity and focus of these kids when they are competing is inspiring.”
More 24 Challenge® News
How to organize a 24 Challenge event at your school!
EASTON, PA—Social media tools like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook were not on the radar of most educators just five or ten years ago. Until recently, these relatively new forms of communication were not used extensively by the First In Math Online Program either—but that is changing.
“Social media is one way our long-distance users can connect with us,” says Communications Director Deborah Schapiro. “Someone who might not take the time to send an email or make a long-distance phone call will instead send us a Tweet about what their class has accomplished in First In Math—it is really exciting!”
“We use Twitter and Facebook to communicate ideas and exchange information from other areas that may help and benefit our audience of students and teachers,” explains Schapiro. “But more importantly, it is a great way to get people talking about math.”
Suntex President and FIM creator Robert Sun agrees. “Our electronic communication is not intended to be a substitute for traditional forms of contact, but it is a very useful tool that can improve the way we interact with our partners. Twitter is an especially interesting communications tool,” says Sun. “It allows me to monitor what teachers and other educators—around the globe—are thinking and doing, in real-time.”
In addition to social media channels that offer a ‘short-form’ approach, Sun has allowed his perspectives on education to be published in leading media outlets, such as The Huffington Post, National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics Newsletter, eSchool News and The London Economic.
Follow Sun’s Huffington Post articles
Follow Robert Sun on Twitter at @RobertSun24
Follow First In Math on Twitter at @FirstInMath
By Robert Sun
The following is a short synopsis of an article published in THE LONDON ECONOMIC. Click here to read the full article, covering the topics: Deep Practice; Critial Thinking and Chunking; Stocking the Pantry; and Lessons From Deep Practice.
It’s not often that an inner-city American school rises to the top of national rankings in academics, and yet Baldi Middle School in Philadelphia has beaten the odds— not just once, but multiple times. Its track record reveals some important insights for anyone concerned with improving the learning experience for children.
In First In Math’s nationwide online competition involving more than 6,000 schools in 45 states, Baldi students solved nearly 20 million math problems correctly in just ten months, and ended the school year ranked #1. Baldi has consistently ranked among the top ten schools in the US in this competition for each of the past five years.
How was this productive culture established? Why do Baldi students embrace math with such enthusiasm when the subject intimidates so many children?
To begin with, Baldi’s leadership has instilled a high-performing culture characterized by three traits: the children feel attached to their school and its mission; the environment supports productivity and performance; and students are energized to sustain accelerated effort over time.
But there’s something also at work in Baldi’s classrooms—a concept known as Deep Practice. The idea of Deep Practice is evident in many pursuits, but rare in academics. In sports, when we swing a bat and miss the ball, we receive instant feedback through our senses. We learn easily and naturally through a practice loop where proficiency is attained through immediate awareness of success or failure.
When solving math problems, there usually is no similar form of encouragement. However, First In Math’s immediate feedback loop allows students to tackle a complex subject in manageable parts.
The benefits of Deep Practice go beyond curriculum attainment. They are vital to meeting the most ambitious requirements in modern education—including the problem-solving and critical-thinking objectives of the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics (CCSSM) currently being instituted in the majority of American schools nationwide.
Critical thinking is one of the hardest mental skills to acquire, mostly because we humans don’t like to think. That’s because our brains were not designed to think. Our brains evolved to quickly process vast quantities of visual information.
Computers can now beat the best human players in chess, but we are just beginning to design computers that can steer robots over uneven terrain or even drive a truck, because processing the vast amount of changing visual information is so complex.
The portion of our brain allocated to thinking is the neo-cortex, commonly referred to as the “working memory.” It is by nature limited. That is why we have difficulty carrying on more than two conversations simultaneously; overtax our working memory and our ability to reason slows or may break down altogether.
There are two ways for information to enter into our working memory for processing. The first is from the environment—what we experience through our senses and problems that we encounter. The second is to draw from our “long-term memory,” which is our storehouse of accumulated factual knowledge.
We have known for more than 100 years, thanks to studies conducted by Hermann Ebbinghaus in the 1800s and confirmed by modern research, that 90 percent of what a child is taught in class is forgotten within 30 days. We sometimes forget that without students taking ownership through active engagement and processing information into long-term memory, we are basically on a treadmill.
We need to learn from the Deep Practice successes of Baldi Middle School and other Philadelphia schools.
Since 2002, the year it began employing Deep Practice techniques district-wide, the Philadelphia School District has seen its percentage of students scoring “advanced” or “proficient” in maths more than triple to nearly 60 per cent. Using Deep Practice to stock a child’s pantry may not be the most glamorous aspect of maths education. But when our students’ pantries are full, it’s evident there’s no limit to what they can accomplish—or to the future they will be inspired to invent.
ROBERT SUN is the CEO of Suntex International and inventor of First In Math, an online program designed for self-paced learning in mathematics. Click here to read the full article, including the topics Deep Practice; Critial Thinking and Chunking; Stocking the Pantry and lessons From Deep Practice.
WASHINGTION, DC—At First In Math, we have the privilege of interacting with inspiring educators every day. Recently, founder Robert Sun and Implementation Strategist Monica Patel visited Langdon Education Campus where they had the opportunity to meet with one such educator—Lyle Brown.
Former President George Bush (back row, center) visited Lyle Brown (back row, far right) and his class, October 5, 2006. Said Bush, “I was in Lyle Brown's class…one of the things I saw was a teacher who loves being a teacher, and I applaud the teachers in this school and teachers all around the country who are adding to the great future of our country.”
Their conversation covered a broad range of topics and both Sun and Patel came away deeply inspired and impressed by Brown’s enthusiastic approach to teaching his chosen subject.
The Washington, DC area school’s Math Interventionist, Brown helps drive a program that makes careers in the sciences more accessible for students. Langdon EC serves students in pre-K through 8th grade in a learning environment that consists of a traditional course of study with a focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). As part of this thrust, Langdon middle school students participate in the First in Math Online Program.
Brown believes that students introduced to more rigorous concepts at an earlier age can develop a strong foundation in the subject. “First In Math covers a lot of subject areas and as a supplement to our curriculum, it provides students with many opportunities to interact with, and practice, math,” explains Brown.
“So many parents and teachers say, ‘I can’t stand math’ or ‘I’m not good in math,’ says Brown. “Don’t be fearful of numbers. Stay positive about math. Get started! First In Math helps overcome these emotional barriers.”
In addition to a robust curriculum supplement like FIM, Brown shared other suggestions about how to create enthusiasm for math in the classroom:
“Teach a new concept. Practice a new concept. Get it correct. This ‘I got it!’ moment reinforces the child’s learning and creates enthusiasm for the subject.”
“Keep focused and stay with it. Our minds change. Even students who love math can be frustrated until they solve the problem. Perseverance is key.”
Teaching is a second career for Brown, one he chose after significant professional success as an electrical engineer and intense self-reflection. Recognizing that he wanted a career that would allow him to help his community, Brown began serving as a substitute teacher and never looked back.
“I see rewards every day. The students’ excitement when they come to my classroom—they want me to know that they know math! I strive to be an advocate for my students, and a role model. Many of them have had a past characterized by the word ‘can’t’—but I want to help them toward a future characterized by unlimited possibilities.“
Although math came easily to Brown, he appreciates that children learn in a differentiated manner, and are not all immediately enamored with math. He feels that early success is even more important for those students. “I received my first public recognition in the subject in fourth grade—the Hippo Hooray Straight A’s in Math Award—and to this day I recall how much it motivated my future success.”
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.
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.
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.
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 24game.com
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
PHOTO BY ABDUL R SULAYMAN / TRIBUNE CHIEF PHOTOGRAPHER
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.”
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.
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.
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