When principal Jenny Robles learned about MIND Research Institute’s ST Math® program, she was confident it would change the lives of her students. But she had no idea how happy it would make her teachers.
Palomino Intermediate School, located in Phoenix, Arizona, and serving 444 students in grades 4-6, was struggling to educate an extremely transitory and low-income population. Close to half of the students are not native English speakers and 99 percent receive free or reduced-price lunches. “Many of the students are so far behind because they’re moving so often,” Robles says. “They have splinter skills.”
When she became principal of the underperforming school in 2008, she introduced successful programs to address discipline and reading issues. But the students’ math scores on Arizona standardized tests were still weak. Enter ST Math. Centered around an animated penguin named JiJi, MIND Research Institute’s ST Math program uses computer software to teach math visually. 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, instead of just memorizing answers.
“Children learn through action,” Robles says. “They need to be engaged, and that’s what ST Math does.” Soon after implementing the program during the 2011-2012 school year, Robles began to see results. There were measurable math gains in all grades, and Palomino’s math scores on state standardized tests increased by three percentile points. By comparison, scores for the entire school district declined one percentile point during the same period. Palomino fifth graders increased their math proficiency by 8 points, while the average for fifth graders in the state did not change. Robles expects further gains this year.
One of the most remarkable instances of improvement came through a sixth grader named Victor who was working at a third-grade math level. Three months after starting with JiJi, he jumped three grade levels. His confidence level improved at the same time. “His whole attitude has changed in class,” says teacher Jorge Ontiveros. “He’s more engaged. He participates now.” But Victor wasn’t alone in his enjoyment of the program. While students love working with JiJi in the computer lab and chronicling their achievements in journals, much excitement happens during monthly assemblies.
The Palomino staff has gone all out in making the character of JiJi come alive. They bought a penguin costume that a teacher wears so that JiJi can give out awards and medals to individual students and classes with high mastery levels. The staff also created a cousin for JiJi, a penguin named Beanie. And they’ve made JiJi a world traveler who sends postcards to classrooms and brings souvenirs back from vacations. “JiJi always comes to assemblies with a suitcase from wherever the penguin was visiting. JiJi is coming from India this week,” Robles says.
The penguin character even ran for student council, but lost to a student. And facsimiles in the form of large and medium-sized stuffed penguins make their way to the highest achieving classes each month. Everyone wants one of those toys in their classroom. “It teaches teamwork, too,” Robles says of ST Math. “The students and the teachers get very competitive.” While it’s natural for teachers to want their classes to shine, the main reason Palomino teachers are so keen on ST Math is that it lets them do what they set out to do every morning: teach. “We can only do so much, but when a kid actually buys into what they’re learning, it makes it much easier for the teachers to reach them,” Ontiveros says.
For more information, visit http://www.mindresearch.org