What Helps Students Love Math?
Encouraging highly successful nonprofits to collaborate with each other on shared goals can often be a challenge. Part of their success hinges on laser-like execution of their own program and on getting results. But occasionally, two programs are so complementary that the combination greatly magnifies what they could ever achieve on their own. Cisco has been a longtime partner and supporter of both City Year, an education-focused nonprofit working in underserved schools, and MIND Research Institute, provider of innovative math learning software. Both held admirably strong track records with their approaches. City Year places young volunteers in schools to assist with multi-subject tutoring, before, during, and after school, in a Whole School, Whole Child approach. City Year staff measure their results by tracking what they call the ABCs: attendance, behavior, and classroom performance in literacy and math.
MIND Research provides ST Math, a set of cloud-based learning games for K-12. These games are non-language based, which has helped students succeed in learning math regardless of their language of origin, gender, and even, in some cases, learning disabilities. Two years ago, it occurred to Cisco’s Community Relations lead, Ricardo Benavides, that combining the programs in the same underserved Alum Rock district schools in the San Jose, California area might lead to even better outcomes. As teachers are often heavily loaded with existing demands, our concept was to offer ST Math in an afterschool context, which had never been done before, with support from the City Year mentors, to see what might come of the extended day experiment.
As Ricardo puts it: “ST Math is a proven product; however, schools and teachers may be reluctant to adopt new program approaches during the school day. The existence of City Year in Alum Rock provided a means of introducing ST Math to the schools without disturbing the teachers. Once we demonstrated success in the after-school program, we were confident the schools and teachers would embrace the inclusion of MIND in the classroom. In addition, the software would allow the learning to scale through the technology, thus freeing the teachers to focus more on students who required more hands-on assistance.” Fast forward to results The partnership encompassed providing MIND’s ST Math program to Cesar Chavez Elementary, A.J. Dorsa Elementary, Mildred Goss Elementary, Horace Cureton Elementary, and, eventually in year two, to Lee Mathson Middle School beginning in the 2010-2011 school year. At each school, ten City Year mentors assisted after-school students. After just one year, the average increase in math test scores for all participating students was 20 percent. Looking at a single school’s results (2010/11 school year), at Cureton Elementary you can see the number of students whose performance moved up and to the right in all cases from Far Below Basic, Below Basic, and Basic, toProficient and Advanced:
A similar graph for all participating schools shows the same trend:
Anecdotally, we also heard that some students were so engaged in the challenge and intrinsic reward cycle of the ST Math games, they preferred to continue working through the puzzles rather than head out to the playground. My original title for this piece was “what helps students learn math?” But the fact is the MIND Research Institute’s ST Math program not only helps struggling students learn and achieve in math, but remarkably, it changes their relationship to math to something they find fun and exciting. Combining this with the exceptional tutoring from City Year greatly multiplies the impact on students. Learn more about Cisco’s other programs that combine human and technology networks to multiply impact at csr.cisco.com.