Can you use the words “fun” and “math” in the same sentence?
Not many people can.
But at St. Gabriel School, Hubertus, students, teachers and parents have been using those words together a lot in recent months. And they can add the word “success” to that sentence as well.
The three words that have led St. Gabriel’s students to have fun – and success – with math are “First in Math.”
“It’s an online program to enhance student math skills at home while they earn stickers and points to compete with other students. It’s fun,” explained Judy Mortell, principal at St. Gabriel.
“We wanted to get our math scores up,” said Mortell. So the school began shopping around for a way to improve student performance.
“We heard about (First in Math) last year, did some research and found another school that had the program,” said Mortell.
The program works on simple foundations that kids enjoy and that have proven successful – games, competition and prizes.
Online games, ranging from addition to multi-step algebra, are organized into groups of skills, which build on previously acquired skills.
In Just the Facts, students have five-minute tests on addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. On the first try, students get 30 stickers for 50 percent correct. At each subsequent try, their improvement nets more stickers – 30 more for 80 percent, etc. Students can toggle back to see their first-try score and see how they improved.
Other modules allow students to work on the types of problems found on standardized tests, build up automaticity skills and play games that deal with money, time, length, distance, area, volume and weight.
Students accumulate points for their work, which they can compare with other students through the state and country. Last week, St. Gabriel was ranked 50th in the nation and first in the state.
Eight of the top 100 players in the state were from St. Gabriel in a recent ranking. They are: Leah Nasgowitz, grade eight, No. 42; Zachary Nasgowitz, grade six, No. 53; Rachel Scaduto, grade eight, No. 61; Michael Cummings, grade six, No. 57; Abigail Piotrowski, grade five, No. 72; Bernie Sidor, grade four, No. 93; Emma Malucha, grade eight, No. 92; and Molly Hansen, grade five, No. 89.
Barb Verble, math teacher for grades six, seven and eight, has seen positive changes in her students.
“They are much more confident with math,” she said. “They can gradually progress as they master simple skills and move on to more complicated problems.”
Verble said the program grows with each student.
“It’s not just facts. There are word problems, time and money problems, all the way up to higher algebra,” she said.
While students mostly work at First in Math at home, Verble also schedules lab time at school for the students to use the program.
Like a lot of games, kids can get hooked on First in Math, but it is one program about which teachers and parents don’t mind seeing their kids get passionate.
Cathy Piotrowski, who teaches kindergarten math and also has three children attending St. Gabriel, said she and her husband sometimes have a hard time getting on the family computer because the kids are working on their math.
“Parents love the program,” said Piotrowski. “They think it’s great.”
She said the students really like the competitive aspect.
“They’re competing to get stickers, to be first in class, trying to be player of the year.”
Her kindergarten students start off in the First in Math program with shapes, early addition and graphing.
The school also has a traveling trophy that goes to the top class each week. Grade 7 won the trophy for week of Feb. 21-27.
Another component of the program that teachers like is the ability to see how students are faring and compare their scores with students nationwide.
“It’s so motivational,” said Mortell. “It’s individualized and there’s immediate feedback.”
Verble has seen a change in her math students.
“I see a much better attitude,” she said.
St. Gabriel is the first school in the district to implement the program. Students pay $7 to use the program at home and at school for the entire school year.
First in Math was designed by Robert Sun, an “inventor, engineer and entrepreneur,” according to the First in Math Web site. He claims his math programs have been used by more than 10 million students throughout the world.