FIM News

Summer Photo Series – FIM Champions

SDP Mathletes

Welcome again to our Summer Photo Series. We hope you are enjoying your summer vacation! In June, these Mathletes had fun—and received recognition for their academic accomplishments—at the School District of Philadelphia’s 2015 First In Math award ceremony.

Dedicated Iowa Student Sets and Meets Math Goals

FAIRFIELD, IA—Pence Elementary fourth-grader, Joshua Cardis, ranks #1 among all fourth-graders in Iowa, and #2 among first- through eighth-grade participants in the First In Math online program. He also ranks #41 among all fourth-graders nationally!

Joshua Cardis
Joshua Cardis shows off the certificate he received from school board members. Photo courtesy Steve Cardis.(Photo and full story appeared in the Fairfield Ledger)

Cardis began the program in October, 2014, after teacher Justin Messer introduced it as part of the classroom curriculum. Since then, the energetic 10-year-old has correctly solved tens of thousands of math problems, advancing beyond eighth-grade-level math.               

“I learned fractions, decimals, negative numbers, exponents and algebra,” says Cardis, explaining that the 24 game modules are still his favorite. “You combine numbers using multiplication, addition, subtraction, division, you can use the square root of stuff—but you always come up with the number 24.”

“What Joshua has accomplished takes a lot of work,” explains Tony Morrow, implementation consultant for the First in Math program. “Joshua correctly solved 85,000 math problems since mid-October.”

According to Morrow, Cardis is very intelligent, but more importantly demonstrates grit. “He will stick with something until he gets it.” Morrow was so impressed he sent a personal note of congratulations to Joshua.

“I couldn’t believe it,” says Joshua’s mother, Tina. “It brought tears to my eyes.”

Like Morrow, Pence principal Chuck Benge was also impressed. “I think that it really shows the drive that Josh had—most was performed at home on his own time.”

Joshua has been in the talented and gifted program since he was in kindergarten and has an intrinsic interest to learn on his own, but the First In Math program “really brought it to light,” according to Joshua’s father, Steve, who is an engineer.

Pence Talented and Gifted teacher Ann Hektoen said Joshua is not only gifted in math, but is also an artist and avid reader who has been working on a comic book for two years, drawing the comics himself.

At a recent Fairfield Community School District board meeting, Joshua spoke to board members about what it took to achieve his goals with First in Math.

“It feels good,” Joshua said. “I worked hard at home, and I had to do a lot of stuff inside of school and outside of school.” He also acknowledged that he couldn’t have achieved his goal without the support of Messer, Benge and Hektoen.

Fairfield Schools Superintendent, Laurie Noll, presented Cardis with a certificate of achievement, and says he was also very proud to wear the First In Math medals he received. “Josh told me that he wanted to be No. 1 in the state. This just shows that when students set goals, it helps them to achieve them.”

Joshua is presently attending College for Kids in Mt. Pleasant, and will transfer to Fairfield Middle School in the fall. Not surprisingly, he already has an idea about he wants to be when he grows up.

“I want to be a Lego engineer.”

First In Math - More than 17 Billion Solved!

EASTON, PA—The First In Math online program recently achieved an amazing milestone—17 BILLION math problems solved to date!

Of course, it is our incredible PLAYERS, as a group, who have actually achieved the milestone. This effort, if performed by a single individual working 24 hours a day, would have taken approximately 5,390 YEARS! That is almost the entire length that the venerated Jewish, Chinese or Indian calendars have been in existence.

“Each morning, I typically check the running tally of Math Problems Solved at the bottom of the FIM login page,” explains First In Math creator Robert Sun. “When I saw the total was approaching 17 billion, it got me thinking about how much time this was equivalent to. I applied our normal formulas to estimate the time involved, and was astounded at the staggering amount of time students are spending solving math problems.”

According to Sun, an in-depth analysis of when players are earning stickers—and therefore thinking mathematically—shows that more than 45% of this activity is happening outside of school hours.

Why do students use this “educational” site on their own time? Sun theorizes it is because FIM does not restrict a student to a specific path. “We have faith in the child to discover his or her ideal entry point to active learning. In preserving a child’s ability to choose and explore, we offer the equivalent of a world-class library, museum or playground within a fun, digital-gaming environment. This distinguishes us from all other math programs.”

More than 20 years ago when Sun left his career in engineering to concentrate on the field of educational tools, he hoped that the 24® game—and later the First In Math program—could help new generations of American students contribute to society. “I am thrilled to see that FIM has inspired so many young people to connect with the world of numbers—and excited that they have taken the ball and run with it with such passion.”

First In Math Provides Summer Fun

Attention parents, students, teachers—and gamers: school may be out, but we’re still here! Your First In Math school User ID is still active until July 31, 2015 at

Parents and children can compete using FIM's Family Link

Digital gaming is a contemporary, practical and effective way to move the knowledge needle, and restore the joy of exploration for children.

Playing just a few minutes each day can greatly increase math skills, as well as overall academic confidence and performance. Our Practice Gyms, Just the Facts and Measurement World modules are places to build basic skills. Skill Sets, Know & Show, and What Do You Know modules explore a variety of areas. Bonus Games are varied and fun, as well as challenging. Content ranges from addition through complex algebra, and includes a focused area for K-2 students.

Children using FIM show consistent improvement in math scores—from the top students to those still improving their skills.

Did you know that any player who earns more than 500 stickers in the program has access to an additional, FREE, Family Link™ login? (User ID/Password can be found on the Player Hub / homepage, check to see if it is already there.) Why not organize a family competition?

Or set a goal of earning 1,000 or 2,000 stickers in new games you’ve not yet tried. If you are not familiar with a particular game, instructions can be accessed by going to the Directions tab at the top right of the page and bottom of each game page. (Download an instructional flyer)

The Rankings will remain fully operational until July 31, so you can track your progress there, as well as on your Student Goal Page.

If you have a great time over the summer on the First In Math site, we want to hear about it on Facebook and Twitter (#FirstInMath) with your parent’s permission, of course. You can even send us an email at and we may share your comments in September!

Students Invited to Suntex Headquarters
To Learn About STEM Careers

EASTON, PA—You may remember our story about a group of girls from Vernfield Elementary School exploring Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) careers published several weeks ago. On May 11, First In Math creator Robert Sun invited that same group of students to FIM headquarters for a visit.

Vernfield ES Students visit FIM
The girls visit with FIM programmer and Quality Assurance Analyst, Sudha Palakollu, to talk about computer engineering careers.

Sun spoke with the group of 2nd- through 5th-graders and their technology teacher, Jennifer Kling, at length. He shared the story of his immigration to the U.S. from China at a young age—and the struggles he faced to succeed.

They also met with Quality Assurance Analyst Sudha Palakollu, Web Developer Casey Rule, and Implementation Specialist Shawn Collier. “The girls were also interested in visiting the Art Director to learn about creating graphics and to see how photo manipulation software like Photoshop is used, but we had to cut our visit short to make it back to school on time,” explains Kling.

“Thank you for sharing the unique energy that flows from the people who work at First In Math. We really enjoyed each and every person there and learned from all of them,” says Kling. After the visit, Kling forwarded messages from the girls to Sun and his staff. “I had an inspirational time! I will definitely consider Technology and Science as a career,” said excited 5th-grader Avery Nogami.

Fourth-grader Julia Vizza thanked several staff members individually in a detailed letter. Here are some highlights!

Shawn, I heard you talk about ‘mindset’ it reminded me of my mother and myself – I completely agree with you.

Mr. Sun, I was inspired by your story of how kids teased you, then came to you to ask for math help, you inspired me with how you helped them even though they wronged you. I hope to get a summer internship at Suntex when I am older.

“The fact that all of these young women took the time to thank us so profusely speaks to their intelligence and respect for others. I am certain they will all do well in their future endeavours, whatever careers they choose,” says Sun.

“Six little girls who love math and computer science received a gift they will never forget,” says Kling. “They now have a script in their minds about what can be possible for them. These special young women may indeed grow up to become computer scientists—or start businesses, build roads, entertain or govern—but I’m certain they will always appreciate this day that was given to them and the passion that was shared.”

First In Math Part of Washington, D.C.
'Local Education Agencies Institute' Series

WASHINGTON, DC—First In Math Implementation Strategist Monica Patel, Project Coordinator Nancy Kane and FIM Representative Brock Estes presented a workshop titled Energize Instruction and Empower Students with Educational Technology at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in downtown Washington, D.C., on May 1.

Monica Patel
Many participants used cell phone cameras to capture Patel’s slides demonstrating “Closed Loop” learning models and other concepts.  

The workshop was part of The District of Columbia’s Office of the State Superintendent of Education’s It Takes a City Local Education Agencies (LEA) Institute Series.

Teachers, administrators, service providers and even parents are invited to attend these exciting LEA events, where participants can select from a robust menu of breakout sessions and workshops. The two-day event’s theme was It Takes a City: DC Does it Best!  

“The focus of our workshop was to demonstrate how intelligent game design—that is based upon neurological research—can set students on a path that promotes 21st-century skills,” explains Patel.

According to Patel, a recent World Economic Forum study found that the world market increasingly demands 21st-century skills. She discussed how a “Closed Loop” system uses educational technology to help teachers promote these skills.

“A Closed-Loop Learning System makes classroom instruction so effective,” says Patel. “When teachers choose programs that are open-ended and provide challenge, students instinctually use critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity as they approach tasks. They take active ownership of their learning, and that ownership leads to curiosity and persistence.”

Using the First In Math Online Program to demonstrate how a closed learning loop works, Patel invited the audience to try their skills on different games and modules from the website. “As participants work toward a common goal, they become aware of the importance of goal-setting in promoting positive communication and collaboration between students and teachers. It is a whole other level of energy!”

Classroom Art Helps Children Connect with Math

Experienced teachers know that engaging students through art is an excellent strategy, so it is no surprise that great examples of First In Math bulletin boards and achievement walls are showing up all over Facebook, Twitter and other social media these days.

FIM Classroom Art & Bulletin Boards

“It’s very exciting,” says First In Math Implementation Specialist Melissa Walsh. “Seeing their name on a bulletin board in the classroom—or on a school’s Facebook page—can be a very empowering experience for children, especially elementary- and middle-school students.”

“On the simplest level, art is something all kids relate to, so it makes sense to incorporate it into your math classroom,” says FIM Art Director Lin Hochmiller. “We make it easy to do just that—our goal is that no teacher should ever have to leave our site to spend time searching for great artwork to motive and reward their students.”

“There is so much great art offered on the First In Math site—I urge you to discover it,” says FIM Implementation Strategist Monica Patel. The First In Math site offers teachers more than 180 free, downloadable certificates, labels, badges and posters to reward students, and recognize achievement on an individual, classroom, and school level.

According to Patel, a Certificate “Wall Of Fame” (WOF) helps math teachers who want a quick way to incorporate art without using up a lot of class time. “Successful First In Math school anchors use a Wall Of Fame or other similar approach to keep students achieving and motivated throughout the year.”

Teachers can access printable WOF art and certificates on their Team Leader Homepage, via the Certificates and Awards and Classroom Art links. (WOF examples and instructions are included.) Place your content in an area that is highly visible and include Skill Level Titles, starting with Scholar (500-999 stickers) all the way up to Mathematician and beyond.

If you are considering a First In Math display, keep these factors in mind:

Pick a high-traffic area or wall to showcase the math proficiency of your students. Make your display visible by choosing an area outside the school office or in the central hallway—this is effective in generating excitement.

Structure it to counteract skill plateau issues—make the theme motivational and use it to promote practice of games / honing of skills needed to advance through the program.

To involve students even more, consider letting them find their own creative way to transform FIM data into a visual display.

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CREATE A CUSTOM CERTIFICATE NOW! Normally, Team Leaders and Principals must be logged in to access Classroom Art links, but we are offering a special, editable First In Math Achievement Certificate here. Click this CERTIFICATE link and open or download to your computer. (PPT file) Sticker Count, Student Name and congratulatory text are fully-customizable.

First In Math Helps Energize 2015 NCTM Conference

BOSTON, MA—Armed with striking new graphics and the mantra Energizing Every Child to Learn, Love and Live Math™, representatives from First In Math® Online Program spent four days at the National Council of Supervisors/Teachers of Mathematics (NCSM/NCTM) annual convention meeting new friends and connecting with current fans.


NCTM - FIM talks with educators

“Our booth has a totally new, fresh look that created a lot of excitement,” says Suntex VP Barbara Asteak. “The graphics feature enthusiastic young people, and reflect the spirit and importance of our message—that setting and achieving goals will keep students energized to sustain accelerated effort over time.”

Attended by nearly 10,000 people, the conference offered many activities. Asteak, FIM inventor Bob Sun and rep Brock Estes attended meetings with educators from Stafford and Virginia Beach, VA, and Bay County, FL. Several FIM representatives, including Philadelphia’s own Cred Dobson, attended the Benjamin Banneker Awards and silent Auction on Thursday, as well as the Banneker Breakfast on Friday. First In Math was presented with a special award of appreciation.

On Saturday, Dobson, along with FIM Implementation Specialist Shawn Collier, conducted a workshop titled Let’s Talk Mathematics: The 24 Game promotes Classroom Fluency. “There were five stations, each highlighted a different 24® game and strategies on how to use the games in the classroom. Our goal was for teachers to have something to take back to the classroom on Monday morning—and we were able to do just that for the 35 attendees,” explains Dobson.

As always, the traditional 24® game basket raffle generated a lot of interest and fun. Wendy Hamilton from Zachary Elementary School in Zachary, LA was the winner.

“NCTM is one of my favorite conferences. It is a year of planning and work from our team and to me it all came together perfectly this year,” laughs FIM Project Coordinator Nancy Kane, who is eager to share another proud moment that many did not see.

“After the show, when we were breaking down the display, another vendor was watching us and said, ‘Wow, you guys really work well together.’ It was a sweet, unsolicited compliment I was happy to hear.”

Field Trip Reinforces ‘Search, Discover, Share’
Motto of Cub Scouts

EASTON, PA—On April 9, seven Cub Scouts, along with their siblings and parents, visited Suntex International Inc., the parent company of First In Math, to learn that creating a digital game follows a lot of the same simple steps they use to build Lego® figures, write a story, or play an instrument. 

Boy Scouts visit Suntex Int. Inc.

“Scouting is about the boys learning life skills, trying new things, and gaining confidence in themselves and their abilities,” explains Troop Leader Stacey Smith. During the field trip—referred to as a GO SEE IT—the boys learned about Internet communications, how important math is in creating digital games, and how they already practice the steps to making a digital game each time they create something.

The visit started at the Kitchen table—where many of First In Math’s good ideas and conversations start! First, the boys considered the steps necessary to create a game. Their five steps were: brainstorm ideas; make a rough copy; make a better copy; test (then test some more) and implement the final product.

After discussing why each of these steps is important anytime something is created, scouts toured the office to see how each staff member works through the steps.

The boys visited the Art Director’s office, talked with the Implementation Specialists—even met the Inventor of First In Math, Robert Sun—but none of these was their favorite. That distinction went to one of the FIM game developers (and it wasn’t just because he has the same Minecraft posters on his wall as some of the scouts do on theirs).

“The boys were able to see code in action. They saw how changes to specific codes changed specific areas of the First In Math site, and were able to write their own temporary messages on the site,” says FIM Implementation Specialist Shawn Collier.

FIM web developer Casey Rule told the boys how important it is to work as a group regarding the five steps they identified. “While each of us brainstorm, draft, test, and complete projects individually when making a game we need to also do this as a team,” says Rule.

During the hour-long visit to First In Math, the scouts from Den 2 learned that creating a digital game isn’t only about learning to write code. They learned that the skills they are using (both personally and academically) as scouts, writers, musicians—and Minecrafters—all affect their ability to create a digital game one day.

“The truth is that the tools these boys will use as adults to create future video games haven’t even been created yet, but the skills they need master those tools haven’t changed in thousands of years,” says Collier. “Today, hopefully, these scouts learned that the ability to think, plan, problem solve, and communicate are necessary no matter what they choose to do.”

In a complicated, sometimes confusing, world of standards-driven education there is a beauty in identifying what has always helped human beings move forward—the ability to create. So, to all the Boys Scouts and Girl Scouts out there—CREATE! Create a song, create a video game, create a masterpiece!


EDITOR’S NOTE: Troops organize Go See It outings to reinforce the Tiger Cub motto of Search, Discover, Share. According to the Boy Scouts of America website, these experiences provide an opportunity for scouts and parents to acquire new interests and knowledge, develop a deeper understanding of and respect for other people, reinforce their attitudes of good citizenships, and, of course, have fun.

Math March Madness Uncovers Champions With Heart

WASHINGTON, DC—This year’s NCAA March Madness basketball season may be over, but for a few thousand Washington DC public school students—and in particular, one unusual group of thirteen—March Madness 2015 will resonate for a very long time.

Dr. SharmaInspiring Youth Program’s First In Math Team Leader, Dr. Brajendra Sharma, holding the FIM trophy.

Now in its third year, the District of Columbia Public Schools’ (DCPS) First in Math March Madness competition is a district-wide event. Like its inspiration from the college ranks, the DCPS tournament pits one school against another in a seeded, single elimination-style playoff schedule over a three-week period. In this series, however, participating schools go head-to-head over math problems, not baskets. 

For DCPS, the First in Math March Madness competition is big news. District Chancellor, Kaya Henderson, celebrates it in her Twitter feed. Principals good-naturedly trash-talk each other. More importantly, millions of math problems are completed over the three-week tournament.

This year’s champion team—the one that exceeded the efforts of students across a school system nearly 50,000 strong—was a group of thirteen 9th to 12th graders from the Inspiring Youth Program at Washington DC’s Central Detention Facility.

As with most cities, the DC public school system is required to provide quality education for teens in confinement. The Inspiring Youth Program has roughly two-dozen young men currently enrolled, spending anywhere from two to nine months or more in the program.

Many people would expect that young people in this situation would be the least likely to win. After all, they are in detention. They probably wouldn’t even be interested.

Yet First In Math creator Robert Sun is not surprised. “I think their teacher, Dr. Brajendra Sharma, knows something that few others do; something that has also become evident to me after working with urban students for nearly 25 years. In my experience, kids from disadvantaged backgrounds have the uncanny ability to rise above their circumstances. In fact, they have character traits that make them the most motivated, resilient and inspired young people you’ll ever find.”

Sun feels that kids from difficult urban environments have the need to prove themselves. “They have an unquenchable desire to demonstrate to themselves, and others, that they are capable and can succeed. Give them the chance to release this passion, and the results are often remarkable.”

District of Columbia Public Schools understands this; and through its March Madness tournament each year, it adds further excitement, camaraderie, goal-sharing and goodwill. When kids are immersed in such positive, attainable learning, only good things can happen—not only in math, but also in life.

Goals Index A Valuable Aide to Communication Between Teachers, Students

EASTON, PA—If you’re a teacher and you’re not using the new First In Math Goals Index, you should be, says former teacher and current FIM Implementation Specialist Shawn Collier.

First In Math Goals Index helps students, teachers communicate

“Since introducing the Goals Index assessment tool in January 2015, the feedback I’m hearing from teachers has been awesome,” enthuses Collier. “Teachers are not just using it to evaluate their students, but the Goals Index is helping them talk with their students about math.”

Teachers can easily and quickly see what their students have—and haven't—done, and can turn that information into a conversation. “This is great on a number of levels,” according to First In Math Implementation Strategist Monica Patel. “It is imperative that we engage students in whatever it is they are learning about, and we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about where they struggle and where we're pushing the boundaries.” Teachers can use these conversations to move forward. “It is a great way to pass the baton to the students without it seeming like you are saying ‘okay kid you're slacking you have to pick it up,’ to them,” explains Collier.

“The Skills Index has been really helpful to both teachers and students,” says John Rice, Manager of Blended Learning at the Office of Teaching and Learning, District of Columbia Public Schools. Rice says that one of his teachers summed it up perfectly: “The Goals Index provides an easy-to-understand graphic that brings focus onto the skills that students are exploring, without emphasis on the stickers that they are earning.”

Teachers tell Rice the Goals Index encourages back-and-forth conversation with students. “They tell me it is easy to say ‘Hey! Why is everyone afraid to subtract 8?’ or, ‘I noticed a lot of people are trying integers, how is that going?’ without being judgmental.”

In the words of one DCPS teacher: “We have interesting conversations about what the students are exploring mathematically and I think it validates their exploration as a worthwhile experience. All in all, it is an improvement that can help us talk about math in a way that is more meaningful and accessible to the whole class.”

Examples like those provided by DCPS teachers do not surprise Collier. “The First In Math program is student-centered,” says Collier, who feels that the educational landscape may be slowly shifting. “I believe that we will see schools start moving away from all of the standardized tests and data points and looking for more opportunities to empower their students.”

“The First In Math Goals Index was launched after a year’s worth of discussion, planning, testing, feedback and tweaking. After seeing it in action I couldn't have asked for more,” says Suntex Vice President Barbara Asteak.*

“With input from countless sources in the education community and the creativity of our own talented team, we put a metric together that allows teachers to be even more effective with their students—both behaviorally and academically. That is definitely something to be proud of.”

* A version of the index has also just been released for students, allowing them to reference their individual progress.

Visit the First In Math Team in Boston

BOSTON, MA—Each year, our nation’s foremost math educators attend the National Council of Supervisors/Teachers of Mathematics (NCSM/NCTM) conference. This year’s event runs from April 15-18

First In Math NCTM Display4

Talk with Robert Sun and the entire Suntex team at BOOTH #1128 to learn how First In Math allows children at every skill level to develop into successful math students. We can’t wait to tell you about risk-free opportunities to implement First In Math in your school!

Then at 9:45 on Saturday, join our Gallery Workshop for grades 3 to 5: “Let’s Talk Mathematics: The 24® Game Promotes Classroom Fluency.”

Cred Dobson, a life-long School District of Philadelphia math educator and recipient of the 2014 Benjamin Banneker Association Lifetime Achievement Award, and Shawn Collier, former math specialist and current FIM Implementation Specialist, are co-presenters. Attendees will participate in a number of hands-on activities that will include materials from the 24® game series.

Don’t forget our annual NCTM RAFFLE! Fill out an entry blank to win a large basket filled with 24® games and other goodies—you do not need to be present to win.

See More Articles in the News Archive

FIM 2015 Champion:

Albert Wang

2015 Honorable Mention

Daniel Wang (PA)
Ashish Panchumarthy (GA)
Ella Tominac-Ural (PA)
Pranav Jothi (VA)
Vy Trinh-Nguyen (PA)
Ani Rudh Rao (PA)
Samantha Brown (PA)
Trey Miller (MD)
Joseph Baker (PA)

Team Leaders
Maribel C. Ordonez (NJ)
Umbrenda Fisher (MD)
Adam Yaller (PA)
Annejeanette Washington (FL)
Lisa Weingartner (FL)
Shairin Brown (FL)
Tyrail Thomas (GA)
Samuel Allison (FL)
Guadalupe Vecchitto (CA)
Michelle Martin (PA)

Manatee Bay ES (FL)
Baldi MS (PA)
Indian Trace ES (FL)
Franklin Towne Elem Chtr (PA)
Wilson MS (PA)
Umana (Mario) Academy (MA)
St. Francis Desales (PA)
Frank ES (PA)
Cedarville ES (IN)
Luella ES (GA)
Antonia Pantoja Chtr (PA)
St. Laurence School (PA)
St. Aloysius ES (NJ)
Mountain View ES (NJ)
Plantation Park ES (FL)
Bishop Mussio Ctl Jh Sch (OH)
St. Veronica School (PA)
Notre Dame de Lourdes (PA)
St. Pius X School (CA)
Mother of Providence (PA)
Sacred Heart School (PA)
Hale Community School (MN)
Waynesville MS (OH)
St. Theresa School (CA)
St. Gabriel's School (PA)

Visit the First in Math®
Hall of Fame!

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