As we start the 2013 school year, 6,000 students in four districts in New York, Illinois, Texas and Florida will be learning problem-solving skills using ST Math, thanks to a partnership between Hyundai Motor America and education nonprofit MIND Research Institute. Each district will receive ST Math instructional software, along with teacher training and ongoing educational support from MIND Research.
This latest grant builds on Hyundai and MIND Research’s three-year relationship, during which the partners have brought ST Math to six schools in Los Angeles, Orange County, California, and Washington, D.C. On average, using ST Math, these districts’ schools have doubled students’ growth in proficiency on state math tests.
“Hyundai’s support has been critical to our ability to expand,” says Ralph Draper, superintendent of Spring (Texas) ISD. ST Math was implemented at one school in the Spring district last year and five are being added this year. The district is currently coping with two budgetary issues: a reduced overall budget, and sequestration, which is limiting its federal title funds. “If the latter situation is not resolved, we won’t have those funds reestablished,” Draper says. “Having corporate partners such as Hyundai helps us move forward despite our financial situation.”
The partnership came about when Hyundai, which is a member of MIND Research’s diversity council, was looking for a way to promote STEM. “They looked around and saw a lot of science fairs, robotics and other initiatives being created to promote STEM education, but not as much emphasis being placed specifically on math skills,” explains Matthew Peterson, Co-Founder & COO of MIND Research Institute. “Recognizing that math is at the heart of STEM, the leadership at Hyundai felt it was important to promote deep math learning.” Management at Hyundai saw that MIND Research Institute was making progress in that area and the two began to talk about how, together, they could help achieve MIND Research’s mission of giving every student the math skills they need to solve the world’s toughest challenges.
“Hyundai, and indeed our nation, needs problem-solvers who can develop innovative solutions to difficult challenges,” says Zafar Brooks, director of corporate social responsibility and diversity inclusion at Hyundai Motor America. “That’s exactly what we’re training students to do with MIND Research Institute’s ST Math program.” Elementary problem-solving Draper attended Peterson’s presentation at the District Administration Leadership Institute Superintendents Summit in Colorado Springs last year, and saw an immediate connection to fulfilling a need in his district. “I came back and shared my thoughts on ST Math with my curriculum staff and we introduced it at Thompson Elementary School mid-year.”
It’s too early for hard metrics, but anecdotally, Draper says test scores there have already shown a significant improvement. One of the largest benefits to ST Math, Draper feels, is that it introduces problem-solving at the elementary level. “Algebra is generally a high school subject with a high level of failure,” he says. “But I believe that algebra failure is rooted at an elementary level, because we’re not teaching conceptual math at that lower level. I think it’s going to take public-private partnerships such as these and technology like ST Math to make this possible. If we do that, then I think our kids will experience some real gains in being able to solve problems.”
Draper was attracted to the program’s ability to remove language barriers for ELL students. As game-based instructional software, ST Math increases comprehension and proficiency through visual learning. It starts with visual puzzles that don’t use language, with symbols and words only appearing later on, making the program equally accessible and challenging for all students, regardless of language proficiency. Following a blended learning model, students learn at their own pace in computer labs, and then teachers connect the puzzles to math concepts in classroom lessons. “Public-private partnerships are hugely important today given that schools don’t have enough funding to bring in the programs they need,” says Peterson.
This solution, he feels, is particularly key to math learning. “Only 30 percent of students in the entire U.S. are proficient in algebra,” says Peterson. “Algebra is the gateway to any tech field. If we can’t generate enough people who have the basic foundation in algebra to go into these jobs, companies will have to fill them by importing people from other countries, and then that becomes a national economic and security problem. So corporations such as Hyundai have a vested interest in building systems early on where students will have the math foundation to go into these tech fields.” Draper agrees. “ST Math is not about teaching students to memorize how to solve a problem, it gives students conceptual understanding of how to solve a problem,” he says. “For 200 years, time has been a constant in education. Everyone has moved at the same pace and if kids couldn’t keep up, they failed. There’s tremendous value in going into a computer lab where kids can work at their individual pace and get instant feedback and understand what he or she needs to work on.”
Students who learn these problem-solving skills early on will be more well-rounded, Peterson feels, because they will take those skills outside the classroom and use them in other real-life situations. “Once students overcome the early frustration first encountered with something that’s difficult, then there’s a joy in figuring it out that leads to a thirst for new challenges,” says Peterson. “As they develop that eagerness for figuring things out, it opens doors for solving all kinds of societal challenges. That’s what we’re trying to achieve.” Going forward, public-private partnerships such as the Hyundai ST Math Initiative are going to be critical for helping K12 districts to keep up in this 21st-century atmosphere.
“What I call the ‘global classroom’ is going to be an expensive endeavor, and that puts a tremendous burden on tax dollars,” says Draper. “As our country grows, with a significant portion of the student body not having English as their first language or being at a socio-economic disadvantage, the more districts will need public-private support. The learning potential of technology is huge, but so is the price tag. It would be impossible to fund it all with tax dollars. Public-private partnerships will make this type of learning possible.”
For more information, go to mindresearch.net.