Pinellas County Schools (PCS) is one of America’s largest districts, serving students with a wide-range of backgrounds and learning challenges. To realize its vision of “100% student success” Pinellas took what some might consider a surprising path for a district with 36% of its students from low-income families: education technology.
Through a small summer school pilot program at a handful of its Title I schools, Pinellas tested and immediately saw the benefits of the game-based ST Math software. “Just watching the engagement and what happened during those six weeks as the students started to show some success led us to continue and to move forward with expanding the program to the rest of our schools,” said Laurel Rotter, K-5 Mathematics Specialist at PCS.
Connecting for Success to Advance Equity
Educators know all too well that experiences outside the classroom impact students’ performance in school, and many children who lack home access to computers and wifi find themselves at a disadvantage in 21st century classrooms. Pinellas tackled this inequity through an ambitious “Connect for Success” program that grants laptops to Title 1 families, and partners with local internet providers to offer discounted access to their homes.
With the Connect for Success program, the district has been able to offer challenges and incentives for students to play ST Math over holidays, ensuring the learning continues outside of the classroom. “It’s part of the overall system of educational success,” says Rotter.
And it’s working. Data shows that students who work their way through more of the ST Math curriculum perform better on the Florida State Assessments than those who complete less.
Today, with the help of a grant from Hyundai, Pinellas uses ST Math across all 80 of its schools, including its Title I campuses, its homebound program, and its exceptional education classes like the one Bryan Williams teaches at Douglas L. Jamerson Elementary Center for Mathematics and Engineering. Williams saw firsthand how ST Math transformed his students with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
One third grader, he recalls, used to be frustrated and slam down his pencil when struggling with subtraction. But the visual representations and informative feedback provided by the ST Math games made the concept click in a new way. Now, Williams says, the student’s eyes light up when it’s time to get out ST Math, and he will proudly announce across the classroom, “I did it, Mr. Williams. I got 100%!”
“I have to pry it out of their hands at the end of every session. ST Math is an activity they look forward to,” Williams said.
What Williams describes with his ASD students is just one example of the sweeping JiJi culture that permeates Pinellas, from the superintendent to the students, and fosters an enthusiasm for learning that extends beyond just math.
In 2015, Pinellas’ Northwest Elementary School won the national JiJi Believer Challenge, when their first grade class composed an original song about learning, persevering and succeeding with ST Math.
Bringing JiJi to the Core Curriculum
The culture of perseverance and learning by doing also extends to teachers in Pinellas, where 160 educators recently began a weeks-long instructional consulting course developed by MIND Research and funded by Boeing.
More than 84% of teachers at the training say they often use resources outside of their textbook to teach lessons – meaning they’re thinking strategically about the content they have to teach and the best means of getting students to deeply understand them.
“ST Math has added value in our curriculum providing an engaging, conceptual computer-based program that supplements the traditional text-based resources,” said Sandra Downes, Director of Elementary Mathematics.
Williams, the teacher, agrees that the program is a powerful tool in his classroom. “With ST Math, I’ve got flexibility, and the information that the program provides really does drive my instruction.”
By enhancing the math curriculum and empowering teachers, ST Math has truly moved Pinellas closer to its goal of 100% success for students.
Brienne is a Curriculum Specialist and former Elementary School Teacher. She speaks on behalf of the MIND Research Institute across the country to illuminate the power and necessity of neuroscience-based, interactive math software that is designed to teach all students how math really works.