Jermall Wright believes that in order for students to develop a conceptual understanding of math, they need a better grasp of the fundamentals that include addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.
However, school officials like Wright, the principal at M.V. Leckie Elementary School in Southwest have discovered the reason many students struggle with math is because there are too many procedures involved.
"One of the reasons kids are struggling with math is because we tried to teach too many concepts and skills at each grade level, and they have walked away without a deep understanding of foundational skills," Wright said. "We've been teaching a whole bunch of stuff that the kids [don't necessarily understand]. The standards have now been [condensed], which means that each grade level concentrates on concepts to build upon their knowledge, so that when they get to the next grade they can connect what they've previously learned."
Wright's comments refer to a new partnership District public schools have with Hyundai Motor America and the MIND Research Institute (MRI), a nonprofit based in Irvine, Calif., that helps students across the country increase their math aptitude.
The cutting-edge digital program provides research-proven tools for teaching and learning math through non-language based, visual instructional software. As a result, Leckie has opened an "ST (Spatial and Temporal) Math Lab," where students have access to a blended learning math program.
"ST Math is a game that features 'Jiji the Penguin,' and what makes it unique is that it's all concept- based," Wright said. "Kids directly apply what they're learning in a game approach which gives them a visual and a conceptual way of working with math standards."
Overall, the innovative program, which has been launched locally as the DC Math Initiative, is offered at 30 other low-performing District elementary schools.
During presentations on Jan. 22, Hearst Elementary School in Northwest was also celebrated along with Leckie as new participants in the program, which also aims to put students on track to become the next generation of highly-skilled workers.
The copyrighted ST Math programs were created by MRI, and are credited with changing the way math is learned. The programs reach more than 475,000 students in hundreds of schools in 26 states.
During the Leckie presentation, Hyundai awarded a $46,000 grant to help cover costs of students in 3rd through 5th-grades.
Abby Daniels, MRI director of Brand Management, said another feature of the innovative software program entails the absence of language or symbols. She said that makes participation easy for both English-speaking and non-English-speaking students, as well as students with learning disabilities.
"It's been incredibly successful with schools across the country, and we launched the partnership with D.C. public schools this school year," said Daniels. She added that MRI's ongoing partnerships with corporations, schools and philanthropic and community organizations continue to impact ST Math's success.
"The program supplements the traditional math program," Daniels said, "with the kids going to the lab during the school day – or for about 90 minutes a week."
She further explained that in using the game software, the goal is to solve a puzzle by getting the penguin to cross the screen.
"Basically, Hyundai has paid for the program to be licensed, implemented and to be expanded next year at Leckie," Wright said. "At that time, it will involve kindergarten through second-graders . . . it's individually based and it's a great program."