# Middle School Math: Practical Methods for Foundational Learning

Interactive technology can address the unique challenges of teaching and learning math at the middle school level

In middle school, students are being readied for higher level math concepts. Educators must engage learners to achieve deeper understanding, as well as prepare students for high stakes assessments. This web seminar, originally presented on April 16, 2014, featured an education expert and sixth grade teacher who discussed using technology in practical ways to achieve ideal middle school math instruction.

Nigel Nisbet
Director of Content Creation
MIND Research Institute

We are very excited about bringing the success that we’ve had at the elementary level up into middle school, and providing a platform for kids to work on on-grade material and intervention material. Our program actually performs a diagnostic assessment at the middle school level, sees where the kids are, gives them intervention material and then ramps them into the on-grade level. The Common Core is based on the idea that math is not just concepts, it’s not just procedural fluencies and it’s not just applications. It’s a mixture of all three. We thoroughly share this view. So we’ve looked at how to build conceptual understanding. There are a lot of very challenging questions that kids are being asked. But when it says that in Grade 6 ratios and proportional relationships are critical to focus on, it doesn’t mean that we need to just focus on tons of word application problems. We first have to build kids’ ability to reason proportionally, connect that reasoning to all of the tools that they need, and then they will be in a position to solve interesting application problems and word problems.

That is the crux of how ST Math, MIND Research Institute’s game software, is designed. A large chunk of our program is built to give students meaningful, difficult reasoning challenges that are embedded with the underlying concepts behind the application problems they see in the Common Core. ST Math features a penguin named JiJi. We essentially reduced all mathematics to tasks in which the students need figure out how to get JiJi across the screen. There are no instructions or questions. The games are entirely visual problem-solving. They include counting, proportional reasoning, arithmetic of rational numbers, fractional math, graphing relationships and so on, and eventually building language into the tasks. Anytime students make a decision or choose something, they get to see the consequences of their actions. If something is wrong, they get immediate feedback about why, and then they get to see how and why things really work. Common Core mathematics is not a disconnected list of topics or tricks. It’s a coherent body of knowledge made up of these interconnected concepts. The rules for multiplying and manipulating integers are no longer just facts to be memorized. ST Math gets to the heart of this. The kids can build their understanding deeply as to how math is going to work, and that is pretty powerful.

Shannon Duncan