Blending Math Games Gets Big Results in Big Trials

MIND Research Institute, an southern California nonprofit, developed an innovative way to teach math—and it works.  Trials involving almost 60,000 students indicate that it typically doubles math gains.

They use visual games that all involve moving a penguin named Jiji across the screen.  It’s all done without a word of instruction.  The visual approach works for visual learners, students new to English, or students experiencing reading difficulties—in other words, it works for most kids.

More specifically, it is a spatial temporal approach to math, ST Math for short, developed by Matthew Peterson, Ph.D. co-founder and the Chief Technical Officer at MIND.  In a year-long curriculum ST Math present mathematics as a series of interactive animated puzzles for students to solve.

The remarkable thing is that students only use ST Math for two self-paced instructional software sessions twice per week under the teacher’s supervision—any school can figure out how to work a couple lab sessions into the schedule for these kinds of academic gains.  Teachers are trained to use the software’s visual representations of mathematics concepts during regular classroom lessons to connect to the conventional language-intensive math instruction.

Since 2008 MIND has conducted a set of trials in 10 communities with clusters of five or more elementary schools.  The cohorts typically number 1,000 students or more and in some communities there have been three cohorts.  The schools—now 268 in total—are typically from the lower 30% of statewide math performance, and are matched to similar comparison schools.

The results are consistent and pretty amazing.  For example, in Los Angeles, from 2010 to 2011, a study of 9,649 in students in 46 schools showed that schools using ST Math doubled gains in math proficiency.  The same has been true of three cohorts in Orange County, Silicon Valley, Chicago, Las Vegas, Dallas.  In New York and Napa, the control group had flat or declining math results while schools using ST Math showed big gains.

MIND notes, that “Schools below 50% proficiency to begin with have averaged 15 to 20 point gains in proficiency within two years.”  And remember, students in these trials just use the software twice a week for a bout 45 minutes.

Blended learning—combining online learning with onsite instruction in ways that boost productivity—was the hot topic of 2011.  MIND Research Institute has been helping 1200 schools nationwide blend their math successfully for more than five years.  Just two computer sessions a week with the visual math product makes traditional classroom instruction far more productive.

This blog first appeared on Huffington Post.  MIND Research Institute is a Getting Smart advocacy partner.

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Tom Vander Ark is CEO of Open Education Solutions and a partner in Learn Capital. He is a former public school superintendent and chairs the International Association for K-12 Online Learning. Author of Getting Smart: How Personal Digital Learning is Changing the World, Tom blogs daily at Getting Smart. Contact him at or follow @tvanderark on Twitter.

Tom Vander Ark




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