After Thanksgiving break, teachers at Fox Elementary Schools introduced a new web-based math program to students, never thinking it would catch on to become a favorite pastime by students and lead to a trophy with the words “National Champions” inscribed on it and placed on display in the school building in northern Carter County.
But that’s exactly what happened.
Third-grade teacher Jennifer Ruth and fourth-grade teacher Becky Tivis say “Think Through Math” was introduced as a supplemental program to aid and reinforce math lessons being taught in the classroom. It was intend to help the students with math lessons, not to produce a national title.
Forty-two students logged 869 hours on the program and completed 143,825 complex math problems in a national contest through the program’s sixth annual March “Math” Madness. Fox Elementary was named national champions, answering more questions correctly and receiving more points than any of the other 11,970 schools across the nation that competed.
“We have hard-working kids,” Tivis said. “Some people don’t think highly of small schools, but we proved what a small school can do. We won a national contest.”
“The kids were so self-motivated,” Ruth said. “People have congratulated me, but it is the kids that deserve to be congratulated. We gave them the incentives and reset their pathways so they could keep going. It all goes to this group of students.”
“Think Through Math” is a program used by schools to cover math content for children in third grade through Algebra 1. The program, which can be accessed at anytime through the Internet, introduces lessons to the students and is followed by a test before a student can advance to the next level. Students are awarded points for solving complex problems as they advance through the program. Those who struggle along the way can live chat with a teacher, and can view a glossary of math terms and formulas.
The program also allows students to see how they are doing compared to their classroom peers and students in the state. As they complete lessons, points are awarded that they can use to build their avatar, their “Think Through Math” profile picture. The students can also use points achieved by the classroom to donated to charity.
Both Ruth and Tivis said the students took to the program fairly quickly after it was introduced. It was in late February that the school noticed it was staying competitive in the March “Math” Madness. The teachers say that’s when it became “game on.”
“As soon as they arrived in the morning, I would have students ask ‘can I get on the computer?’,” remembers Ruth, who has only seven computers in her classroom. “Any time there was a free moment, the kids wanted to use the computers.”
Support from other classes at the elementary school, as well as using the school’s computer lab, helped get kids online and working during free time.
The teachers say the program wasn’t limited to being at school. A majority of students logged on at home, at classmates’ houses, visited the public library, used parents’ smartphones and more to continue to move through lessons.
As lessons were completed, the teachers would award students with pieces of candy, or an iced tea or slushy at lunch.
As the days got closer to the March 31 contest deadline, the school hosted a math marathon event, which brought students out in the evening to log on and answer questions. During Spring Break in mid-March, students met their teachers and worked for a couple of hours each day.
The contest did not take into consideration school size, access to technology or days in school.
Fox students go to school four days a week and were racing against students in the traditional Monday through Friday setting.
On April 1, the school was notified they won the contest with a total of 941 points earned by Fox students. Students from Parkside Elementary in Des Moines, Wash., finished a distant second with 280 total points.
The 42 students were comprised of third and fourth graders with help from two second graders.
Third-grader Sidney Fletcher said her Internet connection at home couldn’t keep up with her use on the program, leading her to borrow her mom’s smartphone or stay after school to work.
“I liked that is was competitive,” Fletcher said. “It was challenging, but you could see when you were in the lead.”
Third-grader Carli Goodwin said she stayed up until midnight the two nights before the contest ended completing math lessons to help her school.
“Fox is usually recognized for sports, never for smarts,” Goodwin said.
Fourth-grader Koda Savage said, at first, “Think Through Math” was tough, but after using it for a few weeks, he began to like the program.
“‘Think Through Math’ helped me a lot with my math in class,” Savage said. “I was getting C’s and D’s, and now I am getting A’s and B’s.”
Tivis and Ruth say they have noticed improvement from their students in not just math skills, but in confidence to solve a problem and encouraging classmates.
“It was great for the kids that were good in math and those that needed more help,” Ruth said. “It really helped improve the confidence level of those not strong in math and get them comfortable on lessons. Those that were better at math were rooting the other students on and helping each other.”
“What I’ve noticed is that when I introduce a lesson in class, I have kids say ‘I’ve already done this on the computer’,” Tivis said. “It reinforces what they’ve learned and what they are learning.”
“Think Through Math” is still being used by the students following the victory. Some of the third graders are working sixth-grade level math lessons, and a few fourth graders have hit the seventh grade level. Each time a lesson is complete, a teacher must log in and approve for a student to move on to the next level. This allows the teachers to track progress.
Last week, the students were honored at a community celebration at the school. The founder of “Think Through Math” attended the event, as did Oklahoma State Department of Education representatives, school administrators, parents and students.
These days, Fox Elementary School is home to a national title banner and a trophy, and the 42 students have medals, T-shirts and certificates to mark their efforts and achievements.
Rep. Pat Ownbey, R-Ardmore, has presented the school with a citation from the Oklahoma Legislature to mark the achievement.
Tivis and Ruth say the community celebration was a night for the students to shine and be recognized.
“As a teacher, you take the kids on as your own. You love them like your own. There are no words to explain how proud I am,” Ruth said.