FIM News

Top Player in Nevada Enjoys Facetime with
Education Leader Robert Sun

LAS VEGAS, NV—When Liberty Perez and her Southern Highlands Preparatory middle school peers first picked up their iPads and logged into First In Math®, she realized it could be an interesting way to become a better math student.

Liberty Perez and Robert Sun
Proof of just another way Liberty used technology to meet one of her goals—a meeting with the developer of First In Math on FaceTime! Left to right: 1) Liberty and Robert Sun share a laugh. 2) With Principal Carla Martin. 3) Showing off her new Apple watch, a gift from her parents.

The energetic 8th grader already excelled in reading, art, music and science, but math was not necessarily her favorite subject. SHPS Math teacher, Susan Kolodny, encouraged her interest, and together they began to watch her First In Math sticker-count grow. When it reached 5,000, she set another goal. Then another. And another.

By the end of the First In Math National Top Ten competition on April 28, Perez had amassed 53,390 stickers, and was ranked #1 among all Nobel schools, #1 in Nevada and #8 Nationwide, all grades.

“The fact is, Liberty used perseverance, self-monitoring and goal-setting to set herself apart from her peers,” explains Southern Highlands Principal Carla Martin.

Executive Director for Nobel Learning Communities, Inc., Kathleen Maroney, agrees. “I could not be more proud of her effort. Libby is an amazing student who represents Nobel and First In Math with pride and enthusiasm, and I want to congratulate her on a job well done.”

When Libby—as she is known to her friends—wanted to know how to earn more stickers, she reached out to her math coach, Nobel Learning Education Manager Toby Grosswald, for guidance. Together, they contacted Suntex International, emailing the corporate offices of First In Math. “I wanted everyone to know I was in it to win it, and I wanted to ask if I could speak with Mr. Sun when I placed in the National Top Ten!”

Thanks to technology, the 2,000 miles that separated them did not stand in the way. Her eventual face-to-face ‘meeting’ with inventor Robert Sun impressed everyone. “Students aren’t usually that poised or confident,” says Suntex Executive Vice President, Nan Ronis, who helped arrange a FaceTime chat with the Pennsylvania-based Sun. “She listened, offered feedback and was comfortable doing so.”

Sun came away from their meeting very impressed. “She set a goal to be in the top ten players in the nation—among more than a million players—and she achieved that goal through sheer persistence. I believe Liberty will make great contributions to humanity as she continues to grow."

“This story shows every student that when you set your mind to something, it can be achieved,” says Grosswald. “The dedication, determination and drive that Liberty demonstrated was supported by her educators and mentors every step of the way. All of us congratulate Libby, knowing that this is not the last time that we will hear of her accomplishments.”

Southern Highlands Preparatory School is a part of Nobel Learning Communities, a network of more than 200 private schools in 18 states and the District of Columbia, with a commitment to outstanding preschools and K-12 schools.

Benjamin Banneker Association and First In Math
Team Up for Visit to Texas Boys and Girls Club

SAN ANTONIO, TX—Between this year’s Texas NCSM and NCTM conferences, Benjamin Banneker Association President, Brea Ratliff, invited First In Math® representatives to conduct workshops for staff members and students at the Eastside San Antonio Boys and Girls Club.

BBA Workshops in San Antonio
Left: At NCTM 2017, Margaret Walker, (right) past president of Benjamin Banneker Association, presents a clock to Nancy Kane in recognition of the First In Math program’s long-time support of BBA initiatives. Right: Staff and students learn about the 24® Game at the San Antonio Boys and Girls Club.

Mel Christensen, Training Coordinator for the San Antonio area Boys and Girls Club Program, organized an outreach to the other surrounding clubs, whose members were also in attendance. First In Math’s Nancy Kane and Shelley Rosen directed one of the five the workshops.

In the morning, Rosen presented a slideshow highlighting several games from the 24® Game series. The staff was very interested in the 24 Game and in the activities provided. Each staff member was given a 24 Game to take with them.

The afternoon brought a fun-filled Power Hour, where Kane and Rosen worked with 6th and 7th graders, while Banneker members and volunteers worked with other grade levels. Students rotated through three different stations, including a 24® Game introduction and a fun 24 Game Factor Wheels activity that allowed them to work in small groups and compete against each other. At the third station, students enjoyed working on the First In Math online program website.

Some of the 40 staff members present, including Program Manager Mark Crump from the East Side Club, were former Boys & Girls Club members who are now there to mentor children and give back to the community.

Rosen hopes they will continue to use the 24 Game and the First In Math website to create opportunities for the children to connect with the math and the world of numbers. “First in Math and the 24 Game are, first and foremost, great learning activities—but they have many applications. Organizations like the Boys and Girls Clubs can use our proven type of game-based learning to engage children, and to help bridge the transition between school and home.”

Changing the Shape of Learning

by Robert Sun

Learning is often viewed as a linear process. First, the thinking goes, students must be convinced they can complete a task. For kids who question their ability to learn, this is a big stumbling block. It puts the onus on teachers to find ways to overcome doubt, negative self-image and prior failures.

Robert Sun with Students

Next, teachers are expected to discover a way for children to become self-motivated. They must show their students a connection to prior learning, or find an intrinsic appeal in the subject matter. Only after these two steps have been accomplished are students considered ready to move on to the final step: learning something new.

The drawback with this approach is its narrow perspective. It places too many steps in sequence, with too many preconditions. Loaded with roadblocks, it makes effective learning difficult. A better model is to think of instruction not as a straight line but as a circle, with entry possible at any spot along the circumference.

Such a model is not only more flexible, but also more inviting to children of varying interests and abilities. Now “do” can be an entry point—as well as “want to do.”

A circular model also increases the ways in which a child can be motivated. The video game industry has used this paradigm to great effect, changing the culture of an entire generation.

Video games succeed because of their non-threatening, open, and self-reinforcing approach to acquiring new skills. First In Math’s digital content is designed to exploit the circular nature of learning using the same key attributes of popular video games: comprehensive content; multiple points of entry; high engagement; a seamless gradient of challenges; a sense of control; short cycle of play and the freedom to make mistakes.

When correctly applied, the circular pattern provided by digital learning games on the First In Math site can actually become a spiral, leading to ever-higher levels of math achievement. As all teachers know, negative attitudes can be self-reinforcing in children. The short cycle of play in a digital game, however, can solve the problem. One quick success presents the child with a question: “Do I go away, or do I continue?” Most will choose the Start button and continue.

When children admit to themselves, “I can do this,” it introduces a new feeling based on the natural response to previous success. Instead of worrying about the threat of a bad grade or a negative reaction from their teacher or parent, kids now think, “I did better than I thought I could, and perhaps I’ll do as well next time.” After working three decades with children and mathematics, my experience confirms that it is not motivation that creates action, but taking action that creates the motivation to do more.

Before long, success eliminates fear. A new perspective takes hold, and the spiral of progressive achievement becomes a reality.

There is no magic formula for math success, but a top-quality tool like First In Math can provide an environment for the most overlooked aspect of math instruction: practice. Like playing baseball or learning the piano, math is a skill that requires practice. When all the right attributes are in place, a digital game for math practice can be immensely effective. It’s up to us to provide that welcoming environment—and then let kids do what they do best: explore and learn for themselves.

ROBERT SUN is the CEO of Suntex International and inventor of First In Math, an online program designed for energizing every child to learn, love and live mathematics.

Son of Florida Math Teacher Shines
On “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire”

WESTON, FL—Marc Horowitz is a former math teacher and current Curriculum Specialist at Indian Trace Elementary who has shepherded many children on to math success, but none more so than his own son, who recently appeared as a contestant on the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire game show.

Charles Horowitz

According to Horowitz, the adventure began when he sent in an application for his son to audition for the show.  “When we were contacted, we were in shock,” laughs Horowitz. “Charles interviewed and auditioned via Skype, and before we knew it, he was chosen to be a contestant on the show.”

Horowitz says the experience was an incredible one, from stepping onto the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire stage in Las Vegas for the first time, to meeting host Chris Harrison.  “Every step of the process was exciting, although a bit nerve wracking.”

Charles was decidedly less nervous, and enjoyed being on stage. “Even though I experienced how stressful facing the cameras can be, I was confident, because my friends supported me the entire way, saying they knew I would do great.”

His appearance on the show created a lot of buzz, but a clip of Charles solving a difficult math problem went viral nationwide after it was posted on the show’s Instagram account. (View clip here)

So where did Charles learn the ‘mad math skills’ that Harrison spoke of after the 13-year-old calculated the correct solution to a difficult a math problem? His proud father takes some credit, but says he had an ally in the process.

“I strongly believe that First in Math was a driving force in my son’s early academics, as he participated in the program for four years,” explains Horowitz, whose classroom teams placed #1 in national competition in both 2009 and 2010. “First In Math helped him build the basics for all functions of math, as well as algebra and solving for variables.”

According to Horowitz, one of the best things about First In Math is the fact that it is an enriching activity. “That means I was able to go beyond what was instructed in class with Charles, and with many of my other students, as well.”

Charles is now 14 years old, and completing 8th grade. His hobbies include playing the clarinet, participating in National Junior Honor Society projects, and participating in environmental volunteer work around his school.

What does Charles think about his brief brush with stardom? “There are a lot of behind-the-scenes things I learned about—and it was one of the best experiences of my life!” Final Answer.

Robert Sun Speaks to Parents, Students
At Calypso Family Math Night

BETHLEHEM, PA—First In Math® creator Robert Sun visited Calypso Elementary and spoke with a crowd of more than 180 guests at the school’s Family Math Night on February 28. Pre-K through fifth-grade students and their parents, grandparents and siblings listened intently as Sun told them how math played an integral role in his unconventional journey to success.

Robert Sun visits Calypso ES
Inventor Robert Sun shared graphics of the new First In Math VIFs™ module, as well as personal photos, that help explain his journey to success.

Sun emigrated from China to West Philadelphia at age nine. One of four children being raised by a single parent, he struggled to learn English, but eventually connected to others through math.

Sun would go on to earn an Engineering degree from the University of Pennsylvania, but decided his true calling was to help students succeed in math. He invented the 24® Game in 1988, debuted the First In Math® Online Program in 2002, and has now introduced an addition to the First In Math arsenal—the Very Important Facts™ (VIFs™) System—to provide students with a strong base of knowledge in foundational math skills.  

After Sun spoke, students were given the opportunity to go to different tables—each table had games for them to play that were grade appropriate, including some from the 24® Game series. Student volunteers from Moravian College were stationed at the tables to help everything run smoothly.

Students could also go into the library to use Chromebooks and play First In Math, where FIM Project Coordinator Nancy Kane worked with students, parents and grandparents. “I had fun teaching families how to log in to First In Math at home,” says Kane. “At the end of the night, each family was given a 24® Game Anniversary Edition and a 24® Game bookmark to tie into Calypso’s Family Reading Night.”

Kane enjoyed the Reading Night posters of the children’s favorite stories displayed throughout the school. “They were very creative, well thought out and very artistic, clearly a lot of effort was put into them. It brought back memories of when my boys were young and were reading some of the same titles.”

According to Principal Kathy Bast, Calypso is the smallest school in the Bethlehem Area School District. It is truly a neighborhood school and retains a great sense of community.  “We understand that it makes for a long day when we hold this type of event in the evening, but it demonstrates how truly dedicated our families are, and how important their child’s education is to them.” Bast’s own daughter attends Palmer Elementary, but joined her mom after school so she could meet Sun.

Junior Journalists Report on First In Math

TELFORD, PA—Souderton Area School District’s Vernfield Elementary has a digital newspaper run by eager students and an amazing teacher, Cindy Edgar.

Young authors from Vernfield ES
Young authors (l to r) Tyler Lutz, Connor Klock, Brycen Clarke

Recently, three fourth-grade students—Brycen Clarke, Connor Klock and Tyler Lutz—asked to interview one of the school’s biggest First In Math proponents, Vernfield Elementary Technology Teacher & Integration Coach Jennifer Kling, to discuss the program.

“It is a simple article, but it is not hard to imagine how proud and invested these boys are about the content,” says Kling. “They are truly inspired to be journalists, and they want to spread the good news about how First in Math can help all students.”

“We hope that everyone liked the article, and that everyone at First In Math knows how much Vernfield students appreciate the luxury of being able experience deep practice with their First in Math subscriptions,” says Edgar, who teaches third grade.

First In Math creator, Robert Sun, says he is thankful for energetic educators like Edgar and Kling—the latter a long-time, avid supporter of First In Math. “I admire her work building high levels of math achievement with her students over the years.”

Enjoy their story, below, reprinted with permission:

First In Math
By Brycen Clarke, Connor Klock, Tyler Lutz

Do you want to learn about First in Math? You will find out in this article!

We sat down with Mrs. Kling to ask her about First in Math. The inventor of First in Math is Robert Sun who also created the math game 24®. He believes math is patterns and it is important how a number connects with other numbers. The First in Math Online Program is used by more than 10 million students in the United States and other countries too!

During the beginning of October, our school, Vernfield Elementary, was in 38th place in the whole state of Pennsylvania. First place in the state was St. Laurence School. The average stickers per student in St. Laurence School was 4,472. Will Stover, a fifth-grade student in our school was ranked 45th in our state. Way to go Will!  The top player in the nation in early October earned 37,568 points [stickers] and is from San Diego, California.

Happy Holidays 2016!

Happy Holidays 2016!

Practice Makes Perfect
When It Comes to Mathematics – Part Two

Part One of this article discussed factors that contribute to an important issue facing educators: studies show that up to 90% of what students are taught in school may be forgotten in as little as 30 days.

Practice - Part Two

In his book, Why Don’t Students Like School, Daniel Willingham discusses how humans have evolved a way to get around limitations in working memory capacity. Through repeated practice, our brains turn procedures into loops that become automatic and are stored in our long-term memory. Only when skills become automatic can they can be called upon and executed without taxing our working memory.To comprehend how and why students have such a low rate of retention—and how we can prevent it—we must recognize that new learning builds upon a scaffolding of old mastery, and nowhere is this more critical than in mathematics.

“Each unique module on the First In Math site is specifically designed to provide automaticity in the basics—at each level. With their skills stored in long-term memory, students can build upon that mastery, and find new approaches to problem solving,” explains First In Math creator Robert Sun.

While educators agree that the best way to achieve mastery is through practice, many of them would also agree that they simply do not have time to supervise that practice. According to Suntex Executive Vice President Nan Ronis, they don’t have to. “First In Math’s robust assessment features make it easy to see whether a student’s foundation of skills is adequate for the current curriculum.”

According to Ronis, scalable assessment tools—such as the FIM Goals Index—make it easy to gauge solidification of the scaffolding children have established by a certain point in time. Teachers can then interact with their students, if needed, and offer a risk-free way to quickly fill in any missing skills through targeted practice activities on the First In Math site.

The site also provides students with individualized MY GOALS, TEAM GOALS and SCHOOL GOALS pages that encourage independent review and motivate students to ‘level-up’ within the program. “Self-assessment is very effective once children comprehend that they need to build upon each skill they learn, explains former teacher and current FIM Implementation Specialist Monica Patel.

“In this, educators and parents must play a larger role,” says Patel. It is our duty to constantly remind students that their job is to become problem-solvers, and not just be memorizers of facts for the short term. It is important that we show children how each little achievement today will help them succeed in an even bigger way tomorrow.”

Practice Makes Perfect
When It Comes to Mathematics – Part One

Every teacher—and every parent for that matter—has seen it. The student who explained a geometry concept in class yesterday is panicking during today’s review of the very same topic. The young woman who completed her homework easily last week is completely confused this week.

FIM News & Notes - Practice Part One

How do students forget new skills so soon after they are taught?

In a recent article that appeared in Education Week’s online edition, Nicole Smith brings focus to the problem. “Whether it is a student who is struggling with remembering new knowledge or applying old knowledge, the problem is the same. New learning is heavily dependent upon old mastery, and quite often students are unable to access prior knowledge in order to move forward in their learning.” 

“The best way to achieve mastery is through practice, but that is something students are often reluctant to do where math is concerned,” explains First In Math creator Robert Sun. “In basketball, when we shoot a free-throw and miss, the feedback through our physical senses is immediate, and we make mental and physical adjustments before our next try. When a child is solving mathematics problems alone at home or on a worksheet in class, there isn’t any built-in feedback, and not much active learning. Math can quickly become a meaningless, boring undertaking for many students.”

In contrast, First In Math’s digital gaming modules encourage students to practice the way they willingly do for sports and other activities. “As a gaming-based practice program with short cycles of play, First In Math provides the lively interaction and instant feedback students crave, along with the amount of Deep Practice necessary for skill retention, according to Sun. “Students learn by repeating, reassessing and fine-tuning skills, and are able to continually analyze and internalize new approaches to problem solving.”

“Young minds must be able to build pathways of memory, and the only way to really do this is through creative, interactive repetition,” says former teacher and current FIM Implementation Specialist Monica Patel, who explains that practice—at three times the amount of instruction time—is necessary for students to master new math skills.

“This is where a comprehensive math-practice tool like First In Math is essential—there is simply nothing like it.”

Look for Part Two, to be published December 6, 2016.

Use Social Media Tools to Get People Talking About Math

EASTON, PA—Social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook have become a part of everyday life for most people—including educators—who recognize social media as a great way to celebrate student success, promote school goals, and communicate with other education professionals.

FIM Social Math

To paraphrase Wikipedia, social media “are computer-mediated technologies that allow individuals, companies, governments, and organizations to view, create and share information, ideas and interests via virtual communities and networks.”

First In Math Coordinator Nancy Kane (@Kane19Kane) believes it is that, and more. “Social media is one way educators can instantly connect with all of us at First In Math,” says Kane. “When we see a post on one of the First In Math® or 24® Game social media accounts about what a student, class or school has accomplished, it is really exciting, and we love to share their good news.”

Suntex President and FIM creator Robert Sun (@RobertSun24) employs social media to monitor what teachers and other educators around the globe are thinking and doing, in real-time. In addition to social media channels, 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

“We are excited to use tools such as Twitter and Facebook to communicate ideas and exchange information that may help and benefit our audience, because we feel it is extremely important to get teachers, parents and students talking about math,” says FIM Implementation Specialist Monica Patel (@AboutImpact).

Patel says that her desire to share ideas is strong but a busy schedule often interferes—making the spontaneity of social media a perfect solution. “If you have news or a math-related topic you’d like to discuss, it takes just a moment to get that conversation started.”

Follow First In Math® on Twitter: @FirstInMath 

Follow First In Math® on Facebook: FIM-Facebook

Follow 24® Game on Twitter:  @24game

More than 20 Billion Math Problems
Solved on First In Math Site!

EASTON, PA—In homes, libraries and at schools large and small, students across the nation have helped the First In Math online program achieve another amazing milestone—20 BILLION math problems solved!

FIM Landing Page - 20 Billion 

First In Math creator Robert Sun was thrilled to see the total reach 20 billion at approximately 9 PM east-coast time on November 9th—and proud to know that the digital-gaming tool he launched in 2002 is clearly popular with students and teachers now more than ever.

Nearly 47% of time spent practicing math on the First In Math site occurs voluntarily, during after-school hours, and Sun believes it is because FIM allows each child to discover his or her ideal entry point to active learning. “In preserving a child’s ability to choose and explore, First In Math is able to offer content that contains real rigor within a framework that is not intimidating. This distinguishes us from all other math programs.”

At every skill level, First In Math modules are designed to reinforce mastery of basic facts, decimals, fractions, integers, exponents, variables and order of operations. Many introduce principles of Algebra—even at the K, 1 and 2 levels. Early introduction leads to enthusiasm and, according to Sun, is what brought students across the 20 BILLION threshold. “ALL students can become their own generators of energy and have passion for learning—given the right environment.”

Bethlehem Area School District to Conduct
Three-Year Math Study

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.

 Robert Sun - VIFs 

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.

See More Articles in the News Archive

FIM 2017 Champion:

Daniel Wang, Jr.

2017 Honorable Mention

Daniel Wang, Jr. (PA)
Aran Jothi (VA)
Neel Anand (VA)
Ayan Swain (NJ)
Joshua Pajimola (CA)
Reyansh Bahl (NC)
Liberty Perez (NV)
Derek Garcia Rodrigez (MA)

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Jeffrey Keys (PA)
Samuel Allison (FL)
Adam Yaller (PA)
Annejeanette Washington (FL)
Abbi Stoloff (FL)
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Lupita Vecchitto (CA)
Lisa Weingartner (FL)
Stephanie Sillo (PA)
Garth Jones (FL)

Chris Sakers, (MD)
William Hanna (NM)
Carol A. Lauck (PA)
Alison Allen (FL)
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Phyllis Elder (GA)

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