A year into a revamp of the C.T. Sewell Elementary School's educational focus, math test scores were heading up. While lead educators in the Henderson, Nev., school were confident about the quality of their teachers and curriculum, they still sought to ensure consistency in students' exposure to core math standards. The solution became clear during a presentation of ST Math, a computer-based program that uses a visual approach to develop math concepts.
Since 2007, the school had adopted a number of new learning strategies. "We felt that implementing another program schoolwide only two years later could overwhelm our system," said Carrie A. Buck, principal of the K-5 school. Instead, Buck and math strategist Kim Basham asked teachers in each class to pilot ST Math with just five students. But teachers quickly bought into ST Math. "As teachers saw the growth in the first five students, they found ways to add more and more students," said Buck.
"What also happened was when students who weren't on the program saw what it was like, they wanted to get on it, too," added Basham. By the end of the 2009-2010 school year, all fourth graders were involved in the program, and their math test scores were up markedly.
A complement to classroom instruction, ST Math is a computer-based, language-free math program that was developed by the MIND Research Institute, a non-profit organization in California.
The program's visual approach to math instruction is incorporated into self-paced activities that align to state standards. Students work at their own pace on a series of animated games that have no verbal or written instructions; instead, the program is based on visual, conceptual and problem-solving activities that are hosted by JiJi the penguin, who silently indicates if a student has succeeded in a game by confidently crossing a little bridge.
"ST Math is based on research-based standards that stimulate the brain and push students to new levels," said Buck.
Ask students what they like most about school, and they immediately say JiJi, according to Buck. Some teachers have developed incentives such as awarding class dollars to students for achieving a certain level of progress. So motivated are Sewell children by JiJi that the school awards a much-prized certificate of completion to students who successfully work through the entire ST Math program. "Some parents who have attended our Sunrise Ceremony had tears in their eyes when their child was awarded a certificate," said Buck.
Sewell's completion rates got a huge boost with the introduction of a Web-based version of ST Math, which allows students to work on assignments at home and also provides real time program updates to the school.
Only 30 percent of Sewell's students have home computers, but because these students use the program at home, there's more time for other students to use it at school. Now, more than 75 percent of the school's students have completed the program, up from 34 percent before it was Web-based.
Given that level of program completion, said Buck, "we expect to see gains in test scores this year." Another advantage of the Web-based version is that teachers can reorder content to suit the needs of students working at home, and the system's enhanced reporting feature allows teachers to monitor student progress and mastery of concepts.
"What is also so impressive about ST Math is the collaborative effort teachers feel they have," said Basham. "Within weeks, we often see changes to the system that reflect the teacher comments I have passed along to MIND. We feel that our voices are being heard."
For more information about ST Math, please visit www.mindresearch.net.