Visual Approach to Math Wins Praise in California Districts

By Sean Cavanagh — October 02, 2009 1 min read
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A computer software math program is being credited with helping a number of California districts made big jumps in their state test scores. Developed by the MIND Research Institute, the program places a heavy emphasis on using visual clues and strategies to help students, particularly those who have floundered with traditional approaches.

The MIND institute says its approach is grounded in neuroscience research and what reveals says about how spatial, temporal, and language skills affect students’ ability to learn math. I wrote a bit about MIND’s approach to helping struggling middle and high school students in algebra a few years ago. The program that’s being credited with raising test scores in Orange County and Silicon Valley-area schools is an elementary computer software program called “ST Math.” Elementary math scores in Orange County rose by bigger much more than state averages, according to this story in The Los Angeles Times. The San Jose Mercury News describes an elementary school in that city that saw its percentage of students reaching proficiency jump from a meager 9 percent in 2007 to 39 percent in 2008 and 70 percent in 2009. Students proceed through problems and exercises that use animated figures. Teachers receive daily input on students’ progress, and focus on building students’ grasp of key concepts and vocabulary.

One of the chief architects of the MIND Research Institute’s strategy is its co-founder, Matthew Peterson, who knows something about young students’ academic struggles. As I described in my 2008 story, Peterson is dyslexic, and didn’t learn to read until 5th grade. He found that visual clues helped him remember and comprehend things, and he still uses those visual aids today. (During my interview with him, I remember seeing some of the figures and pictures he’d drawn on a whiteboard in his office.) He helped launch the institute when he was working on his Ph.D. in neuroscience at UC-Berkeley.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.