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Think Through Math

Adaptive math program providing instruction, practice and help from live teachers —
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Video: Think Through Math at Work

Overview

Think Through Math is a web-based program designed to cover math content for children in grades 3 through Algebra 1 (according to Common Core and state standards for 25 states). It is designed to supplement traditional classroom instruction, especially as a response-to-intervention tool for underperforming students. Instructions and exercises are delivered via an adaptive tutoring software along with online human tutors.

The program is adaptive in that it continually assesses students’ performance to create and adjust learning paths. Paths are the result of grade level targets and individual student performance on the initial placement test at the beginning of the program. Pathways continue to adapt, based on student performance in each lesson. For example, precursor lessons will be inserted into a pathway if the student continues to struggle or fails the post-quiz at the end of a lesson.

The program combines game mechanics with intrinsic and extrinsic strategies to encourage students.  Students earn points that can be redeemed for tangible rewards, including gift cards, T-shirts and even donations to a charity of their school’s choice (a certain number of points amount to $1 charity dollar).  Intrinsic motivation stems from enabling students to operate in their zone of proximal development and to know where they are in their learning progress. To get a feel for the program, watch the “Welcome Video” on the website.

As of September 2013, the program was being used by over two million students across 41 states. It is only offered to schools; there is no option to purchase the program as an individual. Over 50% of the students access the program outside of school (typically from homes and on weekends).

Detailed Report

How it's used

New students are introduced to Think Through Math (formerly called Apangea Math) through a video that provides a brief overview of how to navigate the program and what it is designed to do. Next they take a 30 to 45-minute placement test based on their grade level; the difficulty of questions adapt along the way. The system uses those results to map a learning pathway for each student. That pathway sets the sequence of lessons that address the students’ problem areas and helps them reach proficiency for their grade level. Teachers can modify this path although the company does not recommend it.

Students work independently through the lessons on computer. Each lesson begins and ends with a quiz. Lessons also include a variety of activities such as videos, word problems and interactive animations, that are aimed at leading students through the process of solving problems. With the exception of quizzes, students receive immediate feedback from an automated, virtual math coach that offer a series of pre-programmed hints.

If students still struggle to grasp the concept, they can connect with a live, certified U.S. math teacher who will provide direct instructions via audio (chat) and text (keyboard) support, with the option of using a whiteboard-like function. Think Through Math currently has 50 certified teachers available to provide live support for students who need extra help; they’re available 7:30 am through midnight EST and have office hours on weekends and holidays. TTM also provides Spanish- and Haitian Creole-speaking teachers and Spanish audio support throughout each lesson.

Intended as a supplementary tool, Think Through Math recommends using its program for at least three 30-minute sessions a week. Teachers are not expected to be highly involved while students are using the program. Occasionally, teachers have connected the program via whiteboards to introduce concepts.

The program is designed for independent use. The company reports that 40% of students’ time on Think Through Math happens outside the classroom, namely at home and during weekends.

What material is presented?

Think Through Math covers math curriculum for grades 3 through high school (Algebra 1). It uses Academic Benchmarks to align its content with standards for 25 individual states, as well as with the Common Core Standards for mathematics. (Think Through Math is approximately 94% aligned with the Common Core.) Think Through Math also creates “Lesson Alignments,” which shows which state standards are covered by each lesson in its program. These alignments help both structure the individual student pathways and ensure that students are covering content that is relevant to their year-end exams including two Common Core assessment systems (SBAC and PARCC).

The program emphasizes word problems (especially for its grade 5 to algebra content) to help students develop real-life problem solving skills. For example, Think Through Math might show a fake TV commercial that offers a 10% discount on a TV satellite package and ask the student to calculate the savings.

Engagement

A strong gamification component, based on points and rewards, is core to Think Through Math’s motivation system. As students work through the materials, they earn points for effort and for success. Points can be used to customize avatars and dashboards, or to redeem concrete prizes (gift cards). Students are also self-motivated to donate their hard-earned points to select charities including the World Warrior Project and custom Red Cross disaster relief funds. Reportedly half of the students who have earned points have donated them to charities. (5,000 points = $1 charitable dollar on behalf of Think Through Math to the chosen charity of the individual.) Over the May through June 2013 period, students donated more than $20,000 to Red Cross relief funds in Oklahoma and Texas.

There are also monthly contests that pit schools using the program against one another. Winners are typically determined by calculating the average number of points per student for schools. The nature of competitions vary: schools can go up against other schools, or states against other states. Individuals who excel during these contests (by getting the most points, doing the most problems, etc.) can win a substantial prize such as an iPod Shuffle, a $50 to $100 gift card or an xBox. The company pays for the prizes.

As of February 2012, the company was planning to roll out motivational awards for entire classes, such as pizza, in time for the 2012-13 school year.

How it assesses students

Think Through Math provides a comprehensive reporting system that collects data from formative and summative assessments. A teacher’s dashboard tracks students’ progress on lessons and exercises through formative assessment data and includes real-time data such as percentages of problems correct, topics passed or failed, and how often a student has requested a live tutor. (Students are not penalized for requesting help from a live tutor.) Summative assessments to gauge a student’s mastery of concepts take the form of quizzes at the end of lessons. The system will flag students performing below expectations and recommend a teacher intervenes. Administrators also have access to the dashboard.

Students can track their own progress on student dashboards that highlight problem areas that the program's adaptive system automatically re-assigns for additional practice.

What does it cost?

Think Through Math currently only sells subscriptions to schools. There are two options: an unlimited school license at $16 per student per year (based on the school’s total enrollment), and an individual license at $60 per student per year (an increase from previous pricing of $15 and $55, respectively).

Professional service packages are also available that provide on-site implementation training, ongoing coaching (on-site or online) and other types of training and reporting features. Plans range from $3,500 to $6,000 per building.

One such package, focused on on-site implementation is “highly recommended.”  This $1,900 package includes a half-day workshop introducing teachers and educators to the program. 

How does the company train and support teachers?

There are two levels of support. A $495 “basic” training fee offers two two-hour online training sessions for up to 25 teachers, online access to program feature sheets and videos, and a program design assessment on the schools’ needs and expectations (done prior to program implementation). Teachers have access to online classroom coaches and standards-based reporting to drive instructional decisions. Online program managers monitor the schools’ program usage and provide weekly reports on student performance for teachers and administrators.

The recommended $1,895 packages includes all the features above, and also provides initial on-site training sessions for up to six sites, consultations on implementation and instruction strategies, on-site visits for administrator and teacher consultations, more frequent and in-depth performance reports, and more.

Buts, Ands, Ors

Think Through Math’s instructional methodology features a five-step learning process based on findings from research conducted by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory in the early 1990’s on “cognitive tutoring systems” (computer tutors). The main component of this research involved the development of a “Word Problem Solving Tutor,” designed to teach students how to solve algebra word problems at a ninth-grade level.

The company became revitalized in 2009-2010 with a new injection of funding and new leadership. The product that reached students for the 2011-2012 school year represented a significant renovation and included 60% more content than it had in the past. The company has also become energized by the math competitions it now hosts between schools, which began in 2009.

Results

The company offers a series of success stories for a number of schools. These studies compare the results between control groups and those that have used Think Through Math. There are no independent, third-party studies as of date.

Who's using it?

As of September 2013, the program was being used by over two million students across 41 states. Two of the largest school districts it served were Charlottesville City Schools (in West Virginia) and Boston Public Schools. It recently closed statewide deals with three states: Oklahoma, Indiana, Idaho. In August 2013, the Texas Education Agency renewed its contract with Think Through Math and provides the program to all students in Texas public schools grades 3 through 8.