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Overview

ST Math consists of a series of online math programs, primarily for grades K to 5, best used as a supplement to classroom instruction. There are currently five offerings:  ST Math: K-5 (covering key concepts), ST Math: Fluency (helps with accurate, quick retrieval of basic math facts), ST Math: Math+Music K-5, ST Math: Secondary Intervention (for middle and high-school students who are multiple grade levels behind), and Algebra Readiness (a full-year course, complete with textbook and CD). The product is targeted at large, urban school districts, although it has been used in many smaller districts as well.

As of October 2012, the company reports that 475,000 students, 16,000 teachers, and 1,375 schools in 26 states have used ST Math.

ST Math's distinguishing selling point centers on the “ST” in its name, an abbreviation for the “spatial-temporal” reasoning that the program uses to teach math concepts. In other words, all lessons are first taught visually, without the use of language, numbers or symbols. The program is based on research conducted at the University of California at Irvine and later tested in various schools around the country. ST Math aims to tap into students’ spatial-temporal reasoning ability by using visual animations (starring an animated penguin named Jiji) to introduce math concepts.

In August 2012, Generation 5 of STMath was released. In addition to aligning the software curriculum to Common Core Standards for Math, the update ported three of its programs (ST Math: K-5, ST Math: SI, and ST Math: Fluency) for mobile and tablet devices, and which are available on Apple and Android app stores.

Detailed Report

How does it work?

The philosophy behind ST Math’s spatial-temporal approach to teaching math concepts is rooted in research that has shown that visual learning can be an effective alternative to traditional classroom learning. The idea is that all students, especially those who struggle with language, have the ability to do spatial-temporal reasoning--in other words, to use visual images over time to reason through problems.

By introducing all math concepts visually--without any text whatsoever--ST Math programs clear the language hurdle and can be more stimulating to young children. Once a student has acquired a visual understanding of fundamental concepts, then symbolic representations of math are layered in. A demo video illustrates this nonverbal teaching method.

Every student receives a visual-based, 13-picture login rooted in neuroscience. (The password system is so unique that the company has applied for patent on it.) After signing in, the student sees a dashboard outlining lessons set by the teacher. Each lesson has a series of objectives that are taught through tutorials and games. There are 20 learning objects per grade; each learning object has 6 games and 5 levels per game. Concepts and games are explained visually; there is neither text nor verbal instructions.

The games are 2-D, and consist of the student solving puzzles to navigate a penguin named Jiji across the screen. Jiji encounters obstacles or must try to traverse a route broken up by missing pieces. To solve these dilemmas, students must work through the spatial reasoning that underlies a particular math concept. For example, when Jiji encounters a square hole in the ground, the student must pick the correct number of objects to fill the hole.

Teachers can get a wide variety of data-driven reports in real-time to evaluate student mastery of standards, review student learning patterns and to identify where interventions are needed. Based on the grade level, the system will recommend a sequence of content, which the teacher can modify according to his or her lesson plans.

How it's used:

ST Math is recommended as an supplementary program used in conjunction with traditional classroom teaching. The company suggests that students use the program for at least 90 minutes a week (two 45-minute sessions), with 60 sessions for the entire school year. Teachers can assign exercises for students to do at home.

While teachers are not required for oversight during the use of this program, ST Math strongly suggests the presence of living, breathing (and certified) classroom instructors to monitor progress and intervene should students get stuck.

What material is presented?

ST Math: K-5 includes an average of 140 different games per grade that teach math concepts. Executives say that the materials in the K-5 programs are “over 90%” aligned with state and Common Core standards. The company continues to enhance these programs, with an aim toward fully covering the Common Core standards.

The programs for middle school students (ST Math: Secondary Intervention and Algebra Readiness) are primarily remedial, aimed at helping struggling students who lag by one or more grade levels.

The Secondary Intervention program covers math concepts (and includes games) for grades 2 through 5 and includes some concepts from 6th and 7th grade as well. ST Math: Secondary Intervention covers key math concepts for grades 2 through 7, namely the essential building blocks for math success from a basic level of math facts through introductory algebraic equations. One teacher notes, “If you’re in high school but missing some math, this is a good remediation program.”

The company points out: “Since there are no Common Core standards for a Secondary Intervention or Algebra Readiness program, it is challenging to quantify an alignment to the Common Core standards for these types of programs.”

Engagement:

ST Math researchers say that their visually oriented presentation -- featuring Jiji the penguin--appeals to young students. In the past they have recorded student logins over school holidays (although this can also be attributed to pressure from a parent or guardian).

At the end of each game, students are asked about their level of confidence with the topic that was covered.

How it assesses students

ST Math programs include pre-test and post-test assessments to test student’s mastery of the concepts taught. The in-game reporting system tracks how the students progress through the different levels, and teachers have access to real-time data on their dashboard. Most student interactions with the games and lessons take the form of mouse clicks, and the system can track every single one. Teachers can analyze performance on various levels (by class, student, subject), and can drill down to see how many times a student has attempted a certain lesson. The reporting dashboard clearly flags which students repeatedly fail a lesson and so prompt teachers to intervene. Reports can be exported as .csv files.

How much does it cost?

ST Math is only available for schools. The company has a regional sales team in most U.S. metropolitan areas who sell to school districts and individual schools. Prices are negotiable, but the cost to schools averages $100 per student for the first year.  Subscription fees for subsequent years will be lower. 

ST Math currently does not currently offer a “home” or “parent” version because its research and design team believes that its products are only effective in a school environment.

How does the company train and support teachers?

The school licensing fee includes one day of in-person professional development for teachers to familiarize them with ST Math programs. The training is provided by the company's regional staff (roughly 45) who are based throughout the U.S., mostly in metropolitan areas. Additional training is available in the form of scheduled webinars.

Each school is assigned an education services specialist who periodically follows up with the school and monitors its progress. They have access to the reports to see how students and classes are moving through the curriculum and are available to advise teachers and principals on implementation strategy.

Buts, Ands, Ors

ST Math is still working on making its program more adaptable. Some teachers who have used the system observe that students who repeatedly get a particular type of problem wrong can get "stuck" in a loop where the program continues to offer similar problems, without adapting either the level of difficulty or the type of instruction. A teacher must intervene at this point to redirect the student.

One teacher praised the program for its effectiveness with English Language Learners. “We have great examples of recent immigrants who are just starting to learn English but are rock stars in ST Math,” he says. He’s also found that it engages students “who hate math for one reason or another.” One particular aspect he likes is the requirement to show mastery on a series of questions in a row in order to move on. “Kids pay more attention because they know if they get one wrong, they have to start from the beginning,” he explains.

ST Math has worked with larger district accounts and can try to engineer technology compatibility with different student management systems. The company expects to expand this effort in the future.

As of February 2012, there are two STMath puzzle games available from the iTunes app store, and the company was working to optimize its programs for mobile devices. It was also developing student dashboards. 

The remediation program ST Math: Algebra Readiness is a software-textbook hybrid program, complete with CD, that is quite different from the rest of ST Math’s offerings.

Results

Piloted in 1999 in an elementary school in South Central Los Angeles, as of February 2012 ST Math was in use in over 1,000 schools in twenty-five states, serving an estimated student population of 400,000. The most significant penetration is southern California, where the Mind Institute has conducted most of its research and development. Because it uses visual representations, ST Math has had good success with ELL students.

Descriptions of schools that have used the MIND Research Institute curriculum are available on ST Math’s Profiles in Success page. The case studies aim to show how the program helps raise students’ scores on various state standardized math tests. They are based on research, but the full papers are not available via the website.

More detailed summaries of progress are available on the Results at Scale page. For instance, Company researchers tracked 9,649 students in grades 2-5 in 46 schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) who used ST Math throughout the 2010-2011 school year. Simultaneously, they followed 32,881 LAUSD students with comparable demographics and baseline math scores. Students using ST Math used the program twice a week under a teacher's supervision.

ST Math reported that the percent of students using its program who scored as proficient or better on California Standards Test increased by 13.6 percent over the course of the year. By contrast, only 6.5 percent of the students not using ST Math achieved proficient or better scores.

Another profile describes how students in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) partner schools performed on the math portion of the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT), focusing on the growth in proficiency rates from the 2009-2010 to the 2010-2011 school year. The experimental group consisted of 14 low-performing schools (where at least 25% of students started the school year ranked “below average” for their grade level). They used ST Math in 2010-11, whereas a control group of 150 similar-performing CPS schools did not use ST Math. After the 2011 ISAT, the schools implementing ST Math saw a 13% increase in the number of students who attained the Met/Exceeded mark, compared to a 6.7% increase for the control group.