ST Math: Impressing the littlest and the biggest judges

ST Math: Impressing the littlest and the biggest judges

MIND Research Institute’s ST Math program allows young California charter school to raise test scores and improve teaching

James Dent knew ST Math would help the students at the charter school he co-founded two years ago because he’d seen its power at other schools. But he had no idea how effective it would be with teachers.

“Without our experience with ST Math, we wouldn’t have been able to get our teaching in the classroom to such high levels,” says Dent, principal at Gilroy Prep, a 240-student K-2 charter school in Gilroy, California. Centered around an animated penguin named JiJi, MIND Research Institute’s ST Math program uses computer software to teach math non-verbally. JiJi escorts the students through playful but challenging math lessons that involve various scenarios, games and puzzles.

The character crosses a bridge to the next challenge after students provide correct answers. As a result, students learn to visualize math. In Gilroy’s classrooms, JiJi taught the teachers looking over the students’ shoulders important lessons, as well. “Teachers are also learning a different way to teach math,” Dent says. Rather than drill concepts into the kids, the school now employs the philosophy of visual learning by requiring students to draw their answers and build three-dimensional models.

The teachers also project illustrated lessons onto walls instead of simply telling the children what they should be learning. The benefit: students can “see” math and teachers at the brand new school can see results. Gilroy students in grades K-2 spent 25 minutes a day with JiJi for the first year of the school’s existence. When the second graders took standardized achievement tests, their scores were extraordinary.

Dent reports that eight out of 10 second-graders received advanced scores, with 82 percent scoring advanced and 92 percent scoring proficient or advanced. Nine of the children received perfect scores and four only answered one question incorrectly. “It was like they hit a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth,” the principal says. “The results were off the charts, to be honest with you.” The results are doubly impressive given the challenges Dent and his team faced.

Two-thirds of the Gilroy Prep students qualify for reduced-price lunch prices and are not primary English speakers. They came from all over the region with inconsistent fundamentals. A quarter of the second graders had to go through ST Math’s first grade program before moving to the grade-appropriate level. But even with so many apparent deficits, the second-graders’ language arts scores improved, too, which Dent also credits to ST Math. “ST Math requires them to work on oral language and logic while doing this,” he says. “One thing it does is helps the kids think.”

It also helps high-achieving students advance by allowing them to move through the lessons at their own pace, something teachers giving one lesson to an entire classroom cannot usually manage. “We had kids who were done with second grade curriculum in December, and we could move them on to the next grade,” Dent says. The district’s superintendent was as pleased with the program as the teaching and administrative staffs, noticing during a tour of Gilroy Prep that MIND’s lessons seemed complex, but that the students were concentrating intently anyway. That’s likely because the little penguin on their screens had won them over. As at all schools that have welcomed JiJi to campus, “the kids absolutely love the program,” Dent says.

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