MIND Games Lead to Math Gains
Imagine a math teaching tool so effective that it need only be employed twice per week for less than an hour to result in huge proficiency gains. Impossible, you say? Not so...and MIND Research Institute has the virtual penguin to prove it.
Spatial Temporal Approach
Meet Jiji. Jiji is a cartoon penguin and is the 'star' of MIND Research Institute's visual games that teach math through a spatial temporal approach, known as ST Math. This approach teaches math concepts in a nontraditional way.
'What ST Math does is that it explains without words why two plus two equals four,' Debra Ashby, public information officer for Colorado Springs School District 11, which is one of many districts across the country that has integrated MIND's software into their elementary curriculum, told The Colorado Springs Independent.
The programs start off simply, with students clicking on boxes and solving visual math problems to help Jiji move across the screen. Later, language, numbers and symbols are introduced to help students work out more difficult problems.
For instance, in one exercise 'x' is introduced as a variable, with four numbers listed across the bottom of the screen. The 'x' represents how many boxes are needed to fill in a gap over which Jiji must travel. Students must click on the correct answer from the list of numbers to solve 'x'.
Teaching Without Words
One of the things ST Math shows is that language can in some ways be a hindrance when learning math concepts.
Matthew Peterson, cofounder of MIND, says he developed this system in part because he had struggled learning math in the traditional way due to dyslexia. He speaks of an autistic boy with language difficulties who showed a gift for math after using the system, a gift even his teachers never realized.
To further illustrate the effectiveness of spatial temporal reasoning and math, we can look at the published results of a study by University of California Irvine in 1999. Those results showed that music training had a strong effect on spatial temporal reasoning.
The study concluded that children given piano keyboard training scored higher in math when using a SpatialTemporal Math Video Game than those who used the video game without having previous music training.
Consistent Results
So how effective are MIND's games?
Only this much: the math proficiency gains displayed in schools in Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas and Las Vegas that have used the system are double what they were previously. And these results have been produced consistently. In other schools, substantial gains have been made by students utilizing the ST Math approach, while groups in the same schools using standard approaches had unchanged or even declining results.
One should remember that these types of gains are being realized by students who are using the software only twice per week for about 45 minutes each session. What might we see if the games are even more fully integrated into math curricula across the country?
Over the past few years, all eyes have been on improving STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education, a major emphasis in President Obama's education plan. It is hoped that students in the U.S. can one day equal or rival those in many other countries, where math skills are notably stronger. Quite possibly, Jiji can help to get them there by making math as easy as 123.
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Should kindergartners put away the building blocks and open the math books? According to recent research, earlier is better when it comes to learning mathematical concepts. But that could put undue pressure on kids, parents and even teachers.

One plus one will always equal two...but just how students are taught math is going to change. Nearly every state in the country has adopted the Common Core Standards; for math, this means new and more indepth approaches to teaching the subject. Have we seen the last of traditional algebra and geometry classes?
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