Like many inner city school systems, Virginia's Portsmouth Public School District has encountered its share of obstacles in getting students' math skills up to speed. Located on the Elizabeth River directly across from Norfolk, the city is home to Norfolk Navy Shipyard and the Fifth Coast Guard District, making Portsmouth a center of navel and coast guard activity.
For some time, the school district had been looking for a way to revitalize its math program without saddling teachers with an added burden, so when David Stuckwisch, superintendent of the 15,000-student school district, heard of ST Math at a meeting it caught his ear. "What initially attracted my attention," said Stuckwisch, "was that ST Math had first been successfully used in a low-income area of Los Angeles with students who were language deficient."
It was an approach that Stuckwisch immediately referred to the district's director of math education Fiona Nichols. After a review of some benchmark testing data and some discussions with elementary school principals, Nichols decided to pilot ST Math with some of the school's second and third graders in 2010-11 as a way of giving students a leg up on standardized tests in the third grade.
ST Math is a computer-based supplemental math program that is primarily language-independent. Developed by the MIND Research Institute, a non-profit organization in California, it is founded on many years of neuroscience and education research.
The K-8 program's visual approach to math instruction is incorporated into self-paced activities that align to state standards and complement any textbook. Students work on a series of animated games that have no verbal or written instructions; instead, the program is based on a visual, conceptual and problem-solving approach. Activities are hosted by JiJi the penguin who silently indicates if a student has succeeded in a game by confidently crossing a little bridge.
A MIND training specialist worked with the second and third grader teachers at Brighton Elementary, the pilot school, for an entire day, demonstrating how ST Math can be used in the classroom or math lab and the best ways to use the multiple reporting features of the program. "The teachers immediately liked ST Math," said Nichols. Because ST Math needs little facilitation from teachers and allows students to work at their own pace, teachers are free to work with other students, effectively shrinking the class. "I've been told it's almost like having another teacher in the classroom," said Stuckwisch.
ST Math builds on a progression of activities that move the student from a manipulation of concrete objects to an application of numbers and symbols, and closely matches those recommended by The Virginia State Standard of Learning and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, according to Nichols. The result: "students are not only able to talk about the mechanisms of the animation, but also explain the mathematics of the task," added Nichols.
Because ST Math actively engages students, "they stay on task and want to continue on to the next lesson once they've finished what they're working on," said Stuckwisch. "ST Math has brought a joy for learning back into the classroom."
For more information about ST Math, please visit www.mindresearch.net.