Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

Bond Mill students excel in national math game

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Brenda Fischer sits in the middle of Bond Mill Elementary School’s computer lab, while her 23 fourth-graders intently focus on the puzzles and flashing images on their computer screens and tap away on their keyboards.

She’s monitoring their scores, and when a student completes one level, she yells ‘‘Way to go!”

The rest of the class stands up, applauds and then quickly returns to their computers to continue playing.

Fischer’s class has been playing the First in Math computer program since October, and now three of her students — Azzah Ismail, Belviane Songong and Ashley Akateh — rank in the top 100 fourth grade players in the country. Over 300,000 students in 30 states use the math skill-building program, which automatically logs students’ scores and keeps track of rankings. Students can play year round, from home or school. There are no prizes, aside from perhaps a certificate for the top player in the country. Fourth- and fifth-graders countywide have used the First in Math computer program since 2005.

The program has various games in which students advance to the next level by solving have math problems focused on fractions, decimals and algebra. The game awards students stickers, ribbons and trophies as they pass each skill level. Fischer embraced the system in 1992 when the game was played with cards instead of online, she said.

‘‘Those students that struggle with basic facts have the opportunity to master them,” she said.

Bond Mill’s fourth grade ranks 22nd in the nation and Fischer’s class ranks fourth among individual fourth-grade classes.

Bond Mill’s main competition comes from Paint Branch Elementary School in College Park, the 26th ranked school in the country, Calverton Elementary in Beltsville which ranks 19th and Glenarden Woods Elementary in Glenarden, which has the third best player for all grades in the country—fourth-grader Caleb McCamman.

‘‘I like it because it’s a bunch of competition. You never know you’re learning, it’s so much fun,” said Liam Greves, who is the fourth-ranked player in Fischer’s class. ‘‘Ever since I began, I’m addicted to it.”

Ismail, Songong and Akateh all said they liked math before but it’s even more enjoyable thanks to the game.

‘‘[Math] is kind of more fun now,” Songong said. ‘‘We teach each other how to do stuff.”

Bond Mill’s fourth grade class has the highest average Maryland School Assessment math score over the past four years, compared to the school’s third, fifth and sixth grades. Each year, third- through eighth-graders in Maryland have to take math and reading MSAs, which meet the requirements mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act. Schools must increase their scores by a certain percentage every year, until 2014, when all students are required to score proficient.

Fischer offers her students prizes as they collect points, like homework passes and McDonald’s lunches with her. But some students say the classroom incentives aren’t the only reason they strive to rack up points.

‘‘It’s the challenge [of the game]” that drives Greves, he said. ‘‘The prizes are more of a thing that just comes with it.”

E-mail Elahe Izadi at