The success ST Math students achieve in their primary education goes beyond K-12 education. Many ST Math alumni are excelling in higher education with majors such as computer science, mathematics and engineering, which lead to careers in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields. In this series of blog posts, we asked these students to reflect on the impact of ST Math on their interest in pursuing STEM learning in their education and career.
Ryan remembers well what it felt like to be a fourth and fifth grader using ST Math. He and his friends would race with each other to see who could complete the most levels of the games during their visits to the computer lab. They listened for the “ding!” of success when they correctly solved a puzzle and JiJi, the animated penguin of the ST Math games, would cross the screen. When their teacher showed them a similar problem during their regular math class, they would recognize the concept that had been presented in the games.
“I didn’t even think of it as math,” he says. “I just thought of it as a game.”
Those years at Rose Drive Elementary in Placentia, Calif., were the time when Ryan grew to like math, thanks to his teacher Mr. Fredstrom and a little help from JiJi. With this strong foundation in mathematical skills, Ryan went on to take statistics and pre-calculus in high school. But it was computer science that really piqued his interest.
“I’d always been techy,” he says. “My parents would call on me to fix the TV for them.” When his high school canceled its Advanced Placement computer science course, he was undeterred and enrolled in a week-long summer course that introduced him to C++ and Java.
Among his most vivid memories of ST Math, even a decade later, is of a programming bug that prevented students from getting past a particular obstacle. “There was no physical way to pass it. The teacher had to enter an administrative code to hop to the next level.” At the time, about 20,000 students were using ST Math, and Ryan had found a bug in a newer game. The programming behind the ST Math games, and the inherent challenges in coding, were fascinating to him even then.
Ryan, is programming as part of his Computer Science coursework at Oregon Institute of Technology.
Today as a freshman at Oregon Institute of Technology, Ryan stands out even among his tech-savvy peers, beating out 100 students for one of three spots as a “residential tech” to manage the students’ internet on campus.
He says the skills that ST Math helped him develop in elementary school continue to serve him in college.
“I think a lot of the problem-solving skills used in ST Math I still use today,” he says. “Sometimes you struggle with something one day, then come back a day later and try again. I take that approach even now with coding. I walk away, then come back to it later and it’s so much clearer.
“Or I have a friend come in and talk about the problem, and they might show me something I didn’t think about before.”
That persistent thirst for challenging problems drives Ryan to want to work on cutting-edge projects, writing code for the kind of innovative ventures he sees on Kickstarter. More than that, he wants to use his skills in computer science to make a difference in people’s lives.
“I’m interested in how I can write code that anyone can benefit from, and how something simple can be revolutionary.”
Ding! That sounds like an idea that would make JiJi cross the screen.
About the Author
Christine Byrd writes about STEM and education issues for MIND Research Institute.