This article features contributions from MIND's Education Success Manager, ShaKeitha Green.
In the past six months alone I’ve logged over 20,000 flight miles visiting ST Math® schools around the country, and I’ve seen a lot.
I’ve seen students seated at their desks, all working silently on ST Math while their teacher walks the room, supporting students. I’ve seen rowdy ST Math time with music playing and kids jumping up with fists pumping when they accomplish a level. I’ve seen ST Math centers, or rotation stations, where students are grouped in various ways. I’ve seen students with ST Math on iPads curled up in bean bag chairs. I’ve seen a whole class of kindergarteners cheering on their one remaining classmate to reach 100% progress, then dancing around the room when he achieved his last objective.
I’ve seen bulletin boards showing whole school progress competitions. I’ve attended school-wide celebrations, where the principal presents certificates to students for standout successes. I’ve seen hallways lined with calendars and student names with objectives completed spaced out across the weeks, and I’ve seen “racetracks” where students are recognized for overcoming hurdles.
I’ve seen technological set-ups that would rival conference rooms in Silicon Valley, and I’ve seen tech carts no bigger than a milk-crate where only 7 of the 13 devices are checked out because the remaining 6 had worn-out batteries or broken screens. I’ve seen a student in a BYOD (bring your own device) school trying desperately to click with accuracy on a touchscreen that looked like a car windshield after a head-on-collision.
I’ve seen teachers teach whole class units using a smart screen, and I’ve seen teachers come in before school, when the first bus arrives, to give students who don’t have internet access at home, extra time on the program and a warm space to get out of the cold.
Everywhere I go, I see teachers and students embracing and learning with ST Math.
Varied Goals and Constraints
For those who don’t yet know, I’m MIND’s Senior User Experience Researcher. I visit ST Math schools to observe and interview students, teachers, and administrators about how they’re using ST Math. I also test design prototypes for the next version of ST Math. (Stay tuned to this blog for more on that!)
All over the country, I see schools with different goals and different constraints. To understand whether the implementations I see during my research visits work over time, I’ve teamed up in this post with ShaKeitha Green, Education Success Manager for the Los Angeles area, which includes LAUSD, the 2nd largest public school district in the nation.
The Los Angeles area, like many of our nation’s regions, encompasses wide socioeconomic diversity in both its student populations and educational funding. ShaKeitha has over 12 years of experience with ST Math and has been supporting this region for 5 ½ years. She also trains educators from coast to coast as part of our ST Math Train the Trainer program. Though I’ve seen a lot, ShaKeitha has seen and supported a whole lot of variations in implementation—and seen varying degrees of success.
Schools that build thoughtful and strategic implementation plans around how to integrate ST Math into their weekly schedule have successful results, positive experiences for both students and teachers, and consistent usage across classrooms.
We’ve seen educators committed to implementing ST Math with fidelity given whatever their particular circumstances. While our design team is working on future-features that will make it even easier for teachers to implement with fidelity in their varied situations, we thought we’d share some examples of non-standard implementations, as well as best practices that are bringing about success as we start back to school in this 2019-20 school year.
Recommendations and Modifications
ST Math has a recommended implementation and we have the data to prove the effectiveness of that implementation. This recommendation is two 30-minute sessions per week for kindergarten through first grade, and two 45-minute sessions per week for grades two and above.
Last month, I read all 1,832 responses to the optional open-ended final question on our annual teacher survey. What I read echoed what I’ve seen in my research studies. Schools sometimes have obstacles that impinge on their ability to uphold this recommended implementation.
If your school is also working within such constraints, there are ways to still have a successful implementation.
Shorter Time Blocks
When a class period, or a math block, is shorter than the recommended 30 or 45 minutes per session, even teachers with 1:1 devices find themselves having to modify their implementation to align to their daily schedule.
Minutes per week in the program is the primary metric we recommend schools focus upon, but efficacy isn’t automatically achieved with a straight sum of minutes. Remember, ST Math engages students’ perception action cycle. The neuroscience behind ST Math shows that students engage more deeply and learn more when they attempt something, learn from informative feedback, and attempt again—or apply what they gained from the feedback to the next puzzle, problem, or lesson.
When the total session time is too brief, students don’t get the chance to persevere, learn from the feedback, and apply that learning. Our design team is constantly looking at ways to streamline the between-game navigation in order to optimize time spent in ST Math. Each time students sign in they spend time reorienting themselves to where they left off last session. Additionally, students need time to think about, process, and apply what they’re seeing in the feedback animations.
“I’ve seen schools attempt to complete their 60 or 90 (total) minutes a week by breaking it up into five short sessions, one each day. This has been shown to work, but teachers need to be mindful of transition times. Transitions need to be tight to allow enough space for students to complete levels,” says ShaKeitha.
When a class period, or a math block, is shorter than the recommended ST Math session, she recommends that teachers, “Make sure students are powering-up and logging in quickly and taking full advantage of the time allotted. With short session times, the last table to get devices from the cart may lose ⅓-½ of their ST Math time.”
If the teacher is mindful of students’ transition times, and is available to facilitate to ensure that students aren’t at a standstill in the same content over multiple sessions, ShaKeitha has seen results that compare well to the expected results from two 30 minute sessions.
For upper elementary grades and above, where students are more adept at signing in, balance is key. ShaKeitha points out, “It simply takes longer to do multi-step equations or long division, for example.” This makes it more challenging to shorten the time block for some students working on particular content. That said, “If some sessions are shorter while space is made for longer sessions, students in the upper grades, with timely facilitation, can be very successful with this modified implementation.”
Free-choice is another viable support to shorter time blocks. One teacher, responding to this year’s end-of-year survey, said:
My students have greatly enjoyed learning the program and frequently prefer to go on ST Math when given free choice on the computer. It has really helped my students become more deeply engaged with math.
Set Students Up For Success
One further cautionary note about shortened time blocks: students need longer time blocks at the beginning of the year to “plant” their password. As with all things in ST Math, the picture password learning has been tested and proven successful through neuroscience. When students only spend 10 or 15 minutes at a time trying to learn their password, they’re not building the patterns they need.
“At the beginning of the year, teachers need to set long enough blocks for students to learn their password,” cautions ShaKeitha. “Students who move quickly through the password training, and make their way into the intro games, can be asked to logout and then log back in again to get another practice with their password,” she recommends.
By starting students off well, they will spend less time transitioning, and more time working through ST Math puzzles.
Station Rotation or Centers
When schools don’t have enough (working) devices, we most often see centers or station rotation implementations. Some teachers pull small groups of students working on the same ST Math objective as one of their stations, while other teachers let students work independently on ST Math while they work with students using their book or other materials.
The most common pitfall we see in this sort of implementation are students, who are struggling on a particular game, escaping their teachers’ notice. Station Rotation models work best when the teacher is available to facilitate with students.
ShaKeitha works with schools where the teachers have been instructed to use a station rotation model for intervention. Teachers are expected to split their time between subject areas, with ST Math serving as the math intervention, and the teacher pulling small groups for reading intervention.
“The potential obstacle in this implementation is if the teacher is unable to reach all students with ‘many tries’ alerts,” ShaKeitha points out.
In the absence of alternative ways to support students in ST Math, these teachers turn to peer and parent helpers. ShaKeitha, like many of our Education Success Managers, recommends parent trainings where “parents learn about how ST Math works, and how to facilitate, rather than show their kids where to click.” Following any one of the many guides available in ST Math Central, peer and parent helpers are able to encourage students when the teacher is unable to do so directly.
In many of our station rotation models, teachers pull struggling students and work with them in small groups. In this manner, the teacher is able to facilitate with more than one student at a time and can multiply their facilitation efforts.
As with the shortened time block implementation, transition times can be a big killer, with device functionality being the next biggest derailer. Making sure all devices are charged is crucial to any shared devices model.
Support Seeds Success
Students’ feelings toward ST Math are often a direct reflection of their teacher’s feelings. We’ve seen firsthand that teachers thrive with the support of their administrators. There are many different ways to celebrate ST Math success, and I’ve seen some fantastically creative and truly joyful ones. The best of these give opportunities for a variety of students’ successes to be recognized, not just the students who excel in math and proceed rapidly through content.
Establishing a JiJi culture is a great way to encourage students’ success. This includes celebrating success metrics, embracing and implementing problem-solving practices, supporting productive struggle, and encouraging a growth mindset.
An example from one of our schools on the East Coast comes from a lower elementary teacher that focuses on student’s completion of objectives. “They have a bulletin board where each student is represented by a penguin, and each objective is represented by a fish. When students completes Introduction to the Number Line or Subitizing, they get a fish with that objective name printed on it for their penguin,” ShaKeitha shares.
This focus on growth motivated students, and they mastered content beyond their goal for the year. They also focused on their priority domains, despite working with a shorter-than-recommended time block.
Constraints are a reality for many of our partner schools. While we encourage schools to implement according to our recommended, tested, and scientifically proven method, we also recognize that ST Math is one piece of an overall math curriculum.
In order for it to be as powerful as possible, ST Math needs to be implemented with fidelity.
Students need to start off with success. Students need the time to engage their perception action cycle, to think, to process, to apply, to attempt, and repeat. Students need facilitation support from teachers or trained helpers. Teachers need support from administrators.
Schools can reach out to their Education Success Manager (ESM) who, like ShaKeitha, is well-versed in how schools can achieve fidelity through thoughtful, strategic implementations and succeed despite constraints.
It takes passion and commitment, and a willingness to learn every day—these are qualities of our great ESMs, great administrators, great teachers, and great ST Math students.
About the Author
Alesha Arp is a senior user experience researcher at MIND Research Institute. When she’s not uncovering ways to improve experiences—at work, or IRL—she can often be found baking for family and friends. Homemade cakes are her specialty.