Classroom Technology Opinion

New Study Shows Benefits of Visual, Game-Based Math

By Tom Vander Ark — December 08, 2014 2 min read
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A recent WestEd study showed significant
achievement gains from the use of visual game-based ST Math in 129 California elementary schools. The blended learning
math program developed by an southern California nonprofit has more than ten years of demonstrated results at scale.

ST Math. Matthew Peterson believes that we can “crack the code” on math and help
all students succeed by engineering personalized learning pathways. In the early 1990s, Peterson and two other University of California researchers
developed a simple visual way to teach math. In 1998, they launched MIND Research Institute, a nonprofit to
develop the visually-based software games--and close the achievement gap in American public schools.

For a decade, ST Math was used primarily in a lab rotation model. In 2013 more than 900 games were developed for the iPad making easier and more common for
ST Math to be used as an integral part of a class rotation model.

ST Math has six distinct advantages:

  1. Game-based: engaging and challenging learning games that promote persistence and performance

  2. Instructional: the games promote hypothesis development and testing; failure is met with instructional feedback which an builds an academic mindset
    that effort leads to achievement (i.e., grit)

  3. Conceptual understanding: rather than math as a barrier to adventure games, ST Math games are built around the mechanics of math to promote
    powerful learning.

  4. Aligned: the games can be aligned to the core curriculum creating a coherent instructional program (unlike most blended learning initiative) and
    allowing application of newly developed skills.

  5. ELL: the games include no words so they are perfect for students new to English as well as advanced students.

  6. Support: schools don’t buy online games, they buy a proven program with strong implementation, professional development, and ongoing support.

Results at scale. Change the Equation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan, CEO-led initiative working to mobilize the business community to improve the quality of
STEM learning in the United States recognized ST Math for meeting rigorous standards and consistently yield
positive results for students. They added to the STEMworks database and deemed
it ready to be taken to scale nationally. The Business Roundtable also
publicly recognized ST Math as an “Outstanding” K-12 STEM education program.

ST Math is used by 800,000 students in 2,500 schools in 40 states. Results from a dozen citywide
initiatives demonstrated two or three times the proficiency gains in math when schools used ST Math.

The WestEd study. Comparing state test scores for schools using ST Math to schools that didn’t, the study considered proficiency gains during the 2010-11
school year--before the program was available on iPad. The study included schools where at least 85% of the students in that grade were enrolled in the ST
Math program and on average completed at least 50% of the program. Nearly three quarters of the students were low-income.

Students using ST Math scored 5.6 points higher than students in the comparison grades (a 0.4 effect size, well beyond the federal What Works Clearinghouse
criteria of 0.25 for “substantively important” effect). An increased percentage of students scoring Proficient or Advanced showed an even larger effect

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