Nationwide online math game adds up to fun learning for students
Calverton Elementary among best in First in Math' game
It's about 3:40 p.m. on Friday at Calverton Elementary School in Beltsville, and fourth-grader Brianna Johnson is still in the computer lab. Most of the students have headed home to start their weekends, but she's one of about 30 who chose to stay behind and work on math problems.
"It's fun," said Brianna, 9, of Beltsville while playing the First in Math online game. "It helps me with my math facts," which include addition, subtraction and division.
First in Math is a nationwide program that allows students to play numerous math-related games and earn points, or award stickers, for how often and how well they play. Most students play the game at home and it's become so popular at Calverton that the school placed sixth nationally in stickers earned last year and ranks first in the state this year.
"I've never heard kids talking so much about math," said Principal Mary Tschudy. "It's really neat to see them work together."
The program which covers areas ranging from addition and subtraction to algebra was developed in 2002 by Easton, Pa.-based Suntex International Inc. Prince George's County schools have participated since 2005, offering the program for fourth- and fifth-graders. Suntex charges a maximum rate of $8 per student but that decreases to as low as $6 for larger groups of students.
Calverton paid to have its third- and sixth-graders also participate, said Gale Waibel, the school's math resource teacher. The program has proven beneficial, as the school's math performance on the Maryland School Assessment has improved.
The MSA is a state math and reading test created in accordance with the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which requires states to measure and consistently improve student performance. At Calverton, 80.7 percent of students tested proficient or better on the math portion of the test this spring, compared to 76.3 percent in 2008. This year's figure was nearly three percentage points above the state average.
"They get immediate feedback on whatever they do [during the game]," Waibel said. "So, they know what is right, they know what is wrong."
While some teachers have in-class First in Math sessions, students mostly play at home on a voluntary basis. The school recognizes the students and classes who earn the most award stickers each week based on their scores and time spent playing. Many students said the program has improved their understanding and participation in class.
"It's helping me a lot," said sixth-grader Kevin Robles, 11, of Beltsville. "[Compared to] practicing on paper, it's more fun."
The game is played in 17 of the school's classes with each functioning as its own team. Students have also developed a friendly competition with Paint Branch Elementary School in College Park, which placed fifth in the nation last year one spot ahead of Calverton and had the highest-scoring team in the country.
"The kids love it," Waibel said. "Where else could you have this many students here on a Friday afternoon?"