Robert Sun, Suntex CEO and creator of the First In Math Online Program, had a recent byline in The London Economic, a digital newspaper with open and accessible views on business, economics, finance and international politics.
The publication strives to “collate opinion from across the world to create a forum free from censorship or political bias.”
London Economic editor, Jack Peat, believes that digital technologies will have as big an impact on the way news is dispersed as the printing press did at the start of the second millennium. He explains, “As we move forward into the third millennium, change is the only constant and we are presented with new capabilities daily, suggesting the digital revolution hasn’t happened; its’ happening.”
At Suntex, we share Peat’s enthusiasm for the unlimited potential digital technologies provide and his view that, “In an internet age of ‘everything, everywhere’, never have the challenges been so daunting and yet the opportunities so great.”
In his article, entitled, What WWII Pilots Can Teach Us About Maths Education, Sun references a lesson from the past to provide us with insights about how to approach challenges in the future. He asks the question, “Will the federal government’s ambitious plans to improve STEM education succeed or fail?” and he responds with a compelling recommendation for how to address one of our nation’s most immediate and important learning challenges. Although originally directed to readers in the United States, Sun’s message has global implications and applications, as recognized by Mr. Peat and his team.
Read the complete story here.
The following is excerpted from the July, 2014, edition of EDUCATIONAL EXTRACTS, A Bi-annual Peer Reviewed Educational Journal from St. Thomas College of Teacher Education, Pala, Kerala, India.
Anu James, HOD, Department of Science/Mathematics & Chief Examination Officer, JBCN International School, Borivali, Mumbai, explains the need and benefits of using innovations in mathematics teaching. Innovative practices undertaken by JBCN International School, Borivali, such as First in Math, are discussed.
The teaching and learning of mathematics is a complex activity and many factors determine its success. The nature and quality of instructional material, the presentation of content, the pedagogic skills of the teacher, the learning environment and the motivation of students are all important and must be kept in mind in any effort to ensure quality in the teaching-learning of mathematics. The value of using innovation, especially the use of manipulatives, has been recognized for many years, but some teachers are reluctant to incorporate it in their lessons. It is important for children to have a variety of materials to manipulate and explore if they are to construct mathematical knowledge. In order to have opportunities to learn math, children need first hand experiences related to math, interaction with other children and adults concerning these experiences and time to reflect on the experiences. Educational research indicates that the most valuable learning occurs when students actively construct their own mathematical understanding, which is often accomplished through the use of manipulatives.
JBCN International School believes in the maxim of learning through fun. The school is in association with various programmes/ organizations who practice this thoroughly in their activities.
Through the First In Math (FIM) Online Program, learners get immersed in an interactive environment where new skills are acquired progressively and improvement is continually recognized. In sports, kids take ownership of the practice necessary to improve, often with little guidance from adults. First In Math (FIM) facilitates this same response where students are eager to practice mathematics.
The program provides DEEP PRACTICE, which is a neurological phenomenon, more powerful than normal practice. Skills that may take months of regular practice can be mastered in a matter of weeks, or even days, by tackling a complex subject in manageable parts. With immediate feedback for error correction, students take responsibility of their own goal of mastery learning—driving success in every area. Significant test results can be achieved in minutes a day, using Deep Practice.
First In Math®, an online program created by world-renown Chinese inventor; Robert Sun, has a unique international competition feature, where math becomes a sport to motivate students to solve more problems. Compared to worksheets, students excitedly and willingly solve 5 times more problems on First In Math. “Having journeyed with FIM as a parent, teacher and strategist, I bring this powerful tool to India and create the awareness of brain-based learning that transforms the school and family dynamic”, says Ms. Monica Patel, CEO, First In Math, India. The community of JBCN International collectively solved approximately 15 lakh problems last year with the top player from Standard 4 having solved about 65,000 problems. Teachers and school leaders played a key role in motivating students to achieve excellence with First In Math.
Mrs. Fatema Agarkar, one of the trustees of JBCN schools, an enthusiastic and passionate educationist, spearheaded the implementation of this US based programme. 15 lakh students worldwide are using the program to master math skills. Comprehensive content is presented in a challenge format and gets students to love serious mathematics like no other program does.
JBCN Borivali was the #2-ranked FIM school in India for the academic year 2012- ’13 and in the year 2013-’14 we reached the top position ie. #1 Ranked FIM school in India beating more than 20 schools across the country.
The school as a whole, including the teachers, irrespective of their subject areas, has embraced this program and is taking it forward this year as well. Some of the reflections on FIM made by eminent educationists are as follows: “The First In Math® (FIM) programme is an excellent tool for drill work in mathematics. Mathematics is pegged on the ‘cliche’ that practice makes perfect and to a very large extent there is a lot of truth in it. Math teachers endeavor to provide this drill in traditional forms and students yearn for innovative and attention-gripping techniques.
FIM has successfully integrated these requirements of both teacher and student to good effect. What impressed me most of FIM is that it supplements the efforts of the teachers and does not replace it”, says Mr. Raymond Fernandes, Vice Principal. JBCN International School, Oshiwara, Mumbai. “Math has been a subject that I have dreaded all my life. Glad to be in the Humanities stream, Math was kept miles away. At JBCN, as the homeroom teacher for Grade 8, I was introduced to First In Math which allowed for learners, class and teacher awards. I tried my hand at it, enjoyed the activities, learned concepts without stress and loved every moment. I was the top teacher player of the school and also topped the National level for consecutive periods throughout the year. I would recommend FIM to everyone, especially those that dread Math and I am sure that Math will become your favourite subject.”- Ms. Snehlata Alphonso, Head of Humanities, JBCN International School, Borivali, Mumbai.
“The First in Math programme has encouraged my 6 year old to embrace mathematical concepts with eagerness and zeal. It has, in a fun-filled way, shown him that you can perfect yourself in Maths only if you practice daily. It did also help his reading and comprehension skills. So it is a programme with a dual purpose.” Ms. Florina Fernandes, HOD, English, JBCN International School, Borivali, Mumbai and mother of 6 year old Aaryan (JBCNite).
UPDATE: In April, we reported that one of our own, FIM Ambassador Cred Dobson, would be receiving the 2014 Benjamin Banneker Lifetime Achievement Award.
Prior to his retirement from the School District of Philadelphia in 2006, Cred held many leadership positions and received numerous awards in recognition of his long years of service. At the BBA banquet, long-time colleague, friend, and retired PA Dept. of Education Administrator Jackie Greene introduced the guest of honor by saying she has known Cred for 50 years because he was her middle school math teacher, asking “isn’t that what you all hope for as educators—that someday your students will do so well that they become your boss?”
Dobson received a standing ovation, and after the ceremony there was a line to congratulate him and take pictures.
Top Photo, l to r: Jackie Greene, Cred Dobson and BBA President Vanessa Cleaver, Ed.D.
Bottom left: Bob Sun, Jackie Greene, Nancy Kane, Dobson. Bottom right: Dobson, BBA West Regional Representative Emily Dixon and Paul Griffin, Vice President of Strategic Accounts at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
With this story, First In Math News introduces a new feature, Winner’s Circle, where we introduce you to former champions and share their recent accomplishments.
We inaugurate our series with Janae Bell, 18, from Weston, Florida.
Bell, who hosts an exercise/fitness blog on Instagram, says that her training will be an asset—both physically and mentally—when she is at Harvard.
Being first, as well as the first, is comfortable for Janae Bell.
During the 2005-2006 school year, when Manatee Bay Elementary introduced the First In Math Online Program, Bell won the fifth-grade title and also placed first in the state.
Now, nine years later, Bell has accomplished another first by selecting to matriculate at Harvard University this fall. She will be the first student from Manatee Bay Elementary to attend the Ivy League university.
Bell considers competition “healthy” and “important.” “Personally, I wanted to do the best I could and believed there was always room for improvement and that I could always achieve better.”
When Manatee Bay Elementary introduced First In Math, Bell loved that it “was not the traditional way of learning.” Her parents knew that if she “wasn’t around,” she was solving problems and earning stickers.
According to her mother, Janet Bell, “Every day, Janae would come home from school and do her homework. First In Math really helped strengthen her basic math skills and fluidity. Something about it made her want to push herself and practice every day.”
“It’s a game that serves a positive purpose,” explains Bell. “It allows students to discover a passion for math and find their own way.”
In addition to enhancing her math skills, both Bell and her mother believe that FIM developed other life skill such as setting goals, meeting goals, time-management and self-organization.
All of these qualities have been of added importance during the past year as Bell navigates her responsibilities as Miss Broward County Outstanding Teen 2013. Her involvement with the pageant was the unexpected consequence of a devastating injury that limited her ability to pursue a career in dance.
A veteran pageant contestant encouraged Bell to participate, and in doing so, she realized that although she would not become a professional dancer, as initially intended, she could celebrate her passion for a healthy lifestyle, exercise and fitness. Bell created “Let’s Move It” as her contest platform and her persuasive presentation and responses during the interview portion of the pageant contributed to her earning the crown.
At Harvard, Bell will be involved with the Phillips Brooks House Association, a student-run organization that endeavors to meet community needs while advocating structural change. An advocate of community service since her days volunteering with the National Honor Society at Cypress Bay High School, Bell is looking forward to “putting myself into many different situations” in order to learn about what suits her best.
When asked to share some words of advice with other First In Math enthusiasts, Bell said,
“You can always keep going. Challenge yourself—if you keep going you will be surprised at the levels you are able to complete. My experience with the game surpassed my own expectations.”
We look forward to seeing what Bell will accomplish next and wish her great success during her years at Harvard.
Why underestimate how young our students can be, to love and excel in math? —Robert Sun
HAMAMATSU, JAPAN— When Aiko Yamauchi moved to the United States from Japan three years ago, she could not speak or understand English. She was, however, blessed with a love of mathematics—and lucky enough to be given a First In Math User ID by her new math teacher at Hershey Primary Elementary School.
Left: Aiko Yamauchi, 2014 #4 Player in the US, all grades, solving a Monu’s Path puzzle at her family’s home in Japan. Right: Aiko poses with her FIM All Star trophy.
Having already mastered division and multiplication when she was in kindergarten, the energetic first-grader was immediately engaged by the scope of activities and unique content on the site.
“Aiko has loved mathematics since she was young, and even though she was very busy with other activities, she enjoyed playing First In Math every day,” explains her proud father, Katsuya Yamauchi. While at Hershey ES, she also practiced swimming at the Hershey Aquatic Club and played violin in the Harrisburg Junior String Orchestra.
“Aiko earned 20,000 stickers in first grade, 32,000 in second grade and 54,819 in third grade,” says her father. The nearly 55,000-sticker total this year ranked her #4 in the nation among all grades, and earned her a FIM Top Ten National All Star Award.
Unfortunately, Yamauchi had to move back to Japan with her family just before the end of the 2014 school year—before she was able to receive her award. “We knew Aikio worked very hard and she deserved the award. With the help of Karen Westervelt, her teacher, we were able to get the award to her in Japan,” says FIM Project Coordinator Nancy Kane.
“My daughter was very happy to get the award,” says Yamauchi, who was eventually able to touch base with Kane to arrange the delivery. “Thank you everyone at First In Math so much for your efforts.”
Having become accustomed to life and school in the States, Aiko had to initially readjust to Japanese school, but she did have the continuity of access to First In Math. According to her father, she has transitioned quite rapidly and still enjoys the site. “The system and contents of FIM are really excellent, and as a father, it is my hope that students all over the world will be able to participate in the FIM program in the future.“
By Debra Knight, FIM advocate
SPENCER, OK—In May, I conducted an end-of-year First In Math program award ceremony at Green Pastures Elementary School in the Oklahoma City Pubic School District. Green Pastures is a struggling, inner city school that I communicated a lot with this year as they work diligently to improve their math program.
Among many of the wonderful students I met was first-grader Samuel Marshall. A smart, neat, huggable kid, his enthusiasm is contagious. He rose to the top of his school in the First in Math program, besting several fifth-graders and becoming the only player in the school to achieve FIM GENIUS status by earning more than 4,100 stickers. He was ecstatic when I told him that meant he had solved more than 12,000 math problems!
Posing for a picture with Sam during the award ceremony; Sam with his Award Certificate and a photo of the writing assignment. First-grade misspellings aside, I was absolutely amazed at the vocabulary of this six-year-old.
Samuel’s teacher, Rita Horton, told me that for a recent writing assignment she allowed each student to pick the topic. Sam decided to write about First in Math, and specifically to thank the creator of the program, Robert Sun. I asked Horton if I could get a copy of the assignment.
“First in Math is an adventure for me. It’s a journey for me to explore math. First in math to me is my way of learning my math and for being proud of my achievements and goals of being the first genius in the school. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to live in this country and thank you for making this program and giving us this chance to come to school. And I am happy for this school learning in the year of twenty fourteen. And helping us stay focused on first in math is my Dream.”
As much as this letter touched me, it meant even more to Bob Sun, because he understands better than most the challenges many urban children face. He and I agree wholeheartedly that these students—with the right tools and encouragement—have the courage and persistence it takes to succeed and to quickly get back on their feet after setbacks. As Bob says, “Urban kids have grit by the boatload, and grit will turn these young people into a wellspring of talent in the future.” (Read: Why Inner City Kids Have A Natural Learning Advantage)
School has been out for almost three weeks now, and checking in on the Green Pastures FIM homepage today, Samuel is still actively playing and earning stickers. Kudos to Sam, Horton, Principal Harry Bryant and the entire school for dedicating themselves to academic success!
"Mastery is played on a field that exists within, where results come from inner resources—our spirit, will, belief, focus and joy." —Sarah Lewis
NEWTOWN, PA—Big wins are often the result of meaningful collaborations. At Goodnoe Elementary in Bucks county, PA, Math Specialist Charyl Kerns Hills and student Ben Cramer have brought teamwork to a new level.
Left: Ben Cramer, founder of the Goodnoe FIM Boot Camp. Right: Cramer and Ethan Smith contemplate a solution to a tricky word problem from the First In Math site.
Cramer and Hills led their school to top-tier status in the First In Math Online Program, earning more than one million stickers during the 2013-2014 school year. Hills says she learned about the milestone accomplishment from Cramer, who calculated and monitored the stickers needed to reach that goal.
According to Hills, a math specialist for nearly 20 years, Ben deserves all the credit. “He dedicates his recess to run a First In Math ‘Boot Camp’ for any student in the school who is eager to play.”
Cramer, the top-ranked fifth grader at the school with nearly 23,000 stickers, was not always a math enthusiast. “In third grade, I thought the games were boring and a bit too complicated,” says Cramer. But in fourth grade, he noticed another student in his class had 17,000 stickers. “I thought, if he could do it, I could do it!”
That competitive spirit provided focus for Cramer. With support from Hills, he established his FIM Boot Camp, motivating peers with an initial goal of 4,000 stickers each. As a result of their experiences with First In Math, many Boot Camp graduates have come to realize what teachers already know: “Everybody can do math,” says Cramer.
Cramer’s strategy for reaching and maintaining his number-one position is “to play until I am ahead.” Since FIM provides students and educators with up-to-date statistics on all players, Cramer, who spends at least 45 minutes a day on the site, is always setting a new goal.
He is also encouraged by his fellow ‘Campers. Sessions are scheduled during recess because, according to these students, ‘recess can be boring.’ The group works as a team to solve problems projected onto a whiteboard. They instruct each other in various strategies and tricks, and share their enthusiasm for favorite games. According to Hills the new Rock, Paper, Scissors game has been a particular favorite, as are Pundi’s Puzzle, XYZ shuffle and Know & Show.
The students play at home as well, and agree that with a little practice, anyone can succeed at First In Math.
Cramer, whose competitive fire is also evident when he takes to the basketball court in winter or the baseball field in summer, explains that First In Math and sports are both competitive. “When you practice, you get better at everything. And, everything is connected to math. With math, you can help everybody win.”
This sentiment is echoed by Hills. “First In Math meets the needs of my students. It’s a way to impact math learning by motivating kids to achieve in a positive way. Ben and his Boot Camp are an ideal example of how the First In Math program allows students to grow mathematically and in other ways—encouraging them to be leaders and collaborators in and out of the classroom.”
A continuing series by former teacher and current FIM Implementation Specialist Shawn Collier
In my role as a First In Math Online Program Implementation Specialist, I am often asked ‘what is the correct way to deploy the program in a classroom setting?’ Although I have used First In Math as a third-grade teacher with inner city students, a math specialist with suburban students, and now as an employee with many different types of students, the question still makes me pause because there is no definitive answer.
Asa Packer teachers use FIM certificates and other incentives to highlight and recognize student achievement. (Certificates and other bulletin board materials can be downloaded at the FIM site.)
Because I have never been in your school, in your classrooms or with your students, I usually suggest a general path for teachers to follow, but also convey the fact that they will need to read the signs along the way—and possibly adjust course to meet the exact need of their students. In today’s high-stakes-testing educational landscape, it is rare to find administrators and teachers who are confident enough to do this. Among them is Asa Packer Elementary School.
During the past two years, Asa Packer has seen growing success in First In Math. This year they ranked #22 in the nation among approximately 5,000 schools—up significantly from their spot just outside the top 100 last year. As I studied their growth, I wanted to know how it was happening. What was their ‘correct way’? I decided to go to the source for the answer, Principal Jonathan Horvath.
As I spoke with Horvath—hoping to unearth some ultimate First In Math secret—I quickly realized there was a beautiful simplicity to his process. His secrets? Recognition. Autonomy. Trust. And, a lot of hard work.
Horvath takes the lead in announcing FIM Players and Teams of the Week, and awarding corresponding symbols of recognition, such as trophies, flags or badges. How, when, and why teachers use the program is a decision made by each teacher. So, while two fifth-grade classes engage with FIM over the course of a week, they may be partaking in separate activities, determined by the needs of the classroom.
The trust Horvath has in his staff and students to act autonomously—coupled with the high expectations set forth in his weekly recognitions—create an environment where students want to excel in math and begin to see themselves as lifelong learners.
While it may be easier to focus solely on grade-level standards, schools like Asa Packer have found ways to also focus on the attitude and ability of the student concerning academic achievement. In doing this, not only are they producing some great scores on tests, they produce students that have a belief in themselves and their own abilities. This is BIG. Sole focus on grade-level content only applies to one subject, one year. Affecting students’ attitudes will color all curricular objectives in a school for years to come. It will affect the culture of a school, not just the test scores of a school.
Horvath recognizes students and empowers teachers because he sees the bigger picture. Our test-driven environment often overlooks the ‘caring’ aspects of the school community because it is tough (if not impossible) to find data related to soft skills. It is also difficult to show change over time. But there is hope.
Like seedlings in springtime, schools across the country are sprouting a new focus: affecting student’s attitudes. Using programs like First In Math, schools such as Asa Packer have a staff and students who are leading the way and have been planting those seeds for years, producing healthy, intelligent, well-prepared students who appreciate the learning process.
by Robert Sun
EASTON, PA—Recently, I had an unexpected insight about mathematics. During a visit to an Israeli classroom where English was being taught as a second language, I observed a group of fourth-graders learning the 20 words assigned for that day. I saw how essential social interaction is when learning a language, and it reminded me of my own experience as a nine-year old struggling to learn English in my newly-adopted country.
Left: Rachel Gentely, Development Team Coordinator, Israel; Robert Sun; Suntex Executive Vice President Nan Ronis; Shoshi Nisan, Pedagogical Coordinator, Kadima Mada and Rebecca Levy, Project Writer. Right: Sun speaks with Tzila Levi Sneer, Education Director, Nazareth Illit Municipality.
Learning math is typically a much easier endeavor. With math, we are spared the years of effort needed to acquire an extensive vocabulary. You don’t have to know what each number means, only how it relates to other numbers and to how numbers connect.
One reason math is challenging for so many young people is because it is so rarely spoken. Math instruction traditionally focuses on the written component—textbooks, board work and worksheets. Contrast this to learning English. Although there is a written component—grammar, composition, reading—there is also constant interaction, feedback and encouragement from others through conversation.
I would like to see our education system place the same emphasis on achieving fluency in math as it does on language. I believe that as educators and as a society, we need to develop the idea of ‘social math’ – the use of spoken math to inspire the human interactions that provide the feedback and motivation to master fluency.
Encouraging children, from a very early age, to speak as well as write the language of mathematics, is one way we can begin to develop social math. Teachers can encourage their students to express themselves verbally using mathematical terms; even in early grades, children can be asked to explain what they want or mean using numbers or relationships between numbers. Anything that encourages them to talk about math and mathematical concepts is beneficial.
Many educators who are using First In Math in their classroom have integrated social math into their teaching. Using a whiteboard and engaging the class as a group to solve problems by explaining their thought process to each other is an effective way to encourage speaking math.
Now that I’ve gotten you thinking about the concept of social math, begin to take notice of how often you speak math throughout your day. How often do others use mathematical terms or language when they are communicating with you? Teachers—do you speak math with your students in the classroom? We are interested in learning more about your social math experiences. Please share your best practices for speaking math with us at email@example.com
Learn more about Robert Sun’s thoughts regarding social math and how to support our next generation in achieving math mastery and fluency here. Follow Bob on twitter @RobertSun24
CLARKSTON, GA—Dekalb County K-8 students exhibited their enthusiasm and mastery for math by solving more than 94 million math problems in seven months on the First In Math (FIM) Online Program website. One school, Indian Creek Elementary, achieved the top honor—ranking number one in the state for the "Top 100 Students" category, placing among the top 5 in the state for the "All Grades" category, and placing among the top 100 schools in the nation.
Indian Creek students work together on many class projects; FIM is an activity that motivates and excites individual students and entire classrooms.
Additional DeKalb County honors go to Austin Elementary School, home to the top three first grade teams in the state, Snapfinger Elementary, home to the number one 2nd grade player and Sagamore, home to the number one 4th grade player.
For all of these students, their accomplishment is the result of hours of practice and dedication, and of intrinsic motivation—the desire to engage in a task for its inherent pleasure and satisfaction, according to First In Math creator Robert Sun. “The students who achieved this goal believed in their capacity to learn and experienced first-hand that their efforts resulted in success and their success motivated them to keep striving. The joy and self-satisfaction they experienced is familiar to anyone who has mastered a new skill and been motivated to keep improving,” Sun explains.
Created in 2002, First In Math Online is a supplemental, web-based program that involved more than 5,000 schools and 1.5 million students across the country during the 2013-14 school year. In Georgia, more than 350 schools and 120,000 students participated this year. The program is designed to be dynamic and extremely customizable to each student’s needs. Comprehensive content is presented in a game format and engages all types of learners through a variety of options.
Shawn Collier, First In Math Implementation Specialist, was thrilled to learn about Indian Creek’s accomplishments. “I believe that our content can not be beat, however, the math we offer is just the tip of the iceberg. We offer parents a chance to feel proud of their children and to celebrate them for academic achievements, and we offer the public the opportunity to recognize these children, as well.”
Indian Creek is also home to Georgia’s #1- and #3-ranked fifth-grade teams, as well as the #3-ranked fifth-grader in the state. All students and teams were recognized at a special ceremony on May 15 attended by FIM Vice President Barbara Asteak and her colleague Brett Eaker.
Award ceremonies, as well as recognition for the Player of the Day and other accolades throughout the school year, are an important aspect of the First In Math culture, according to Asteak. “Recognition leads to pride and confidence among students and encourages them to see themselves as capable learners who are able to achieve their goals. It’s exciting for us to see the power of math transform students’ attitudes and engagement,” says Asteak.
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