Success Story: Mina Elementary

Mina Elementary is a large public school serving the Bastrop community in central Texas.  It has over 500 students in attendance, with grades kinder through fourth.  The school has a mixed population with about 45% economically disadvantaged students.  It’s a school who clearly cares deeply about their students and community. You should see the pictures from the fall festivals, parades, and science fairs on their website!

Mina Elementary began using Formative Loop about 1.5 years ago.  Their math scores were doing well, but they had heard about other schools in the area seeing lots of success closing skill gaps through daily practice.

In the last year alone, they saw their third-grade students improve 18% on the Texas STARR test from the previous year when they were in second grade!  They also saw the number of students who were highlighted as “Mastered” by the STARR test go up 33%.  This is amazing progress in only one year.

Their principal, Reba King says,

“Formative Loop is loved by students, parents, and teachers.  Students are motivated.  Parents can easily assist with the homework and appreciate that we are putting an emphasis on holding students accountable for foundational math skills.  Teachers see the impact on student learning, and value the real-time data to drive intervention.”

Mrs. King has implemented the program campus wide in grades 1-4.  Each day, the entire school does their math practice at 7:35 am.  Once the paper-practice is complete, support staff helps enter the progress in the computer for the 3rd and 4th graders.  The other grade levels just have the teachers manage it.  They print out the next-day’s practice using the Formative Loop website.

4th Grade Teacher, Jennifer Leisure writes,

“Formative Loop is the best program I have seen to practice numeracy skills on a daily basis.  As a teacher, I can appreciate the easy implementation of Formative Loop.  The program is individualized and students go at their own pace.  It definitely has built math confidence in my students.”

Many of the grade levels include a daily homework practice from the program.  These are also individualized for each student.  Jennifer went on to say,

I have found Formative Loop to be a powerful tool when meeting with parents in conferences.  It is easy for a parent to monitor the 5-minute nightly homework requirement and to track their child's progress through the skills.”

It’s not just the 3rd graders who saw a large improvement.  Their 1st grade population meeting their district end of year academic targets for math went up 11% and their 2nd grade population increased a total of 27% from 2015-16 to 2016-17.

We’re proud to partner with Mina Elementary.  We know student improvement doesn’t come simply from tools like Formative Loop, but also requires the dedication and skill of great teachers.  Congratulations to the students and staff of Mina Elementary on your success!

The pencil is still high tech

Can you imagine a device that lets you easily communicate ideas, erase your mistakes, take anywhere, never needs charging and costs just a few cents? It's the pencil of course! We sometimes forget the magic around us. With so many digital programs out there and on the internet, in some cases students are beginning to spend the majority of their school day on a digital device. Technology is everywhere in our lives and should play a key part in our classrooms. Finding the right balance is something many schools are still struggling with. What’s the right amount of teacher/student interaction? Which skills are benefiting from digital programs? What are the drawbacks? When we set out to design Formative Loop, we immediately began with an all-digital program. We were surprised at what we found (although I am sure many of you will not be). Our goal was to make the best possible individualized math program focused on foundational skills. We knew that a daily practice was key to the success of this program. When we began testing in classrooms, it was quickly apparent that getting 20 second graders to login to a website suddenly didn't look like a quick 5-minute practice. Some schools didn't have enough devices. Even for those that had enough devices, it just didn't make sense for a quick practice since the duration of the practice was short.

Logistics aside, our second surprise was just how much magic there was to pencil and paper that our digital devices have simply not yet recreated. Children still need practice in number formation in these early years. Research was published in the journal, Learning Disability Quarterly where Virginia Berninger found that

"a keyboard doesn’t allow a child to have the same opportunity to engage the hand while forming letters…on a keyboard a letter is selected by pressing a key and is not formed…brain imaging studies with adults have shown an advantage for forming letters over selecting or viewing letters.”

Your brain works differently when putting pencil to paper! It stimulates a part of the brain called the Reticular Activating System, or the RAS. In Write It Down, Make It Happen, author Henriette Anne Klauser says that

“Writing triggers the RAS, which in turn sends a signal to the cerebral cortex: ‘Wake up! Pay attention! Don’t miss this detail!’

Amazing! This magic device in your hand, the pencil, is communicating directly with your brain and telling it to get with the program.

We have seen this in action throughout our classrooms now and believe strongly that pencil-paper has its place in math practice. It's extremely accessible compared to getting kids on computers. It provides students the mechanical practice of number formation which is critical at this age. Working through complex skills like regrouping benefit greatly. It also quickly identifies their learning gaps which allows the teacher to see their work and engage personally with that student. Long live the pencil! That is until a more magic pencil from a company like Apple is good enough and cheap enough of course.

Why students can’t problem solve if they don’t have numeracy

The goal of modern day math classrooms is to equip students to solve everyday math problems.

There are lots of approaches to developing problem solving skills. But without a foundation of numeracy, students won’t be able to reach their full problem-solving potential. Good problem solving is dependent on core numeracy skills.

In some ways, numerical fluency is like reading fluency. Both are building blocks. Reading fluency – being able to decode words – impacts reading comprehension. Many language arts teachers have observed that students with poor phonetic decoding and sight word recognition skills read so slowly that they are unable to understand the very sentence they just read.

Poor numerical fluency has the same negative effect in mathematics. When the child’s numerical ability is lacking, they struggle to solve multi-part math problems. Numerical fluency is the ability to work fluidly with numbers in a variety of mathematical situations.  Kids competent with numeracy have the ability to hold a multi-part problem in their working memory, use their skills to resolve each part, and solve the problem as a whole.

Numerate students are capable of solving multi-step math problems – and importantly – evaluating the reasonableness of the solution.  For example:

Joseph saves pictures in a 4 page photo album. He has 102 pictures in the album – 28 pictures on the first page, and 23 pictures on each of the last two pages. How many pictures are on the second page of Joseph’s photo album?

The numeracy math skills needed to solve this problem are:

  • The ability to double (or multiply by 2) – 23 x 2 = 46
  • Summing two two-digit numbers with carrying:  46 + 28 = 74
  • Subtracting with regrouping: 102 – 74 = 28
  • Evaluating the reasonableness of the solution (adding them all together to verify they sum to 102).

If your students struggle with one of these skills, they’ll be incapable – or extremely slow – to solve the problem as a whole.  Most tests these days are timed – so speed matters.

So what’s a school to do?  Be sure to put a little time into reinforcing the core numeracy skills that your students will need to draw upon to solve the problems they tackle in class.  A little investment in numeracy goes a long way.

 

Looking for a simple 5-minute a day way to do so?  You are welcome to a free trial of Formative Loop.

 

Using gamification to make students crazy for math

I was always surprised by watching my daughter work for hours to earn a few extra virtual coins on her latest iPhone game to have enough to purchase a virtual
fedora for her virtual avatar. That was of course until I noticed I found myself doing the same thing one day! It is a core part of human nature to feel validation by a clear measurement of our progress with a reward in mind.

Measurement is prevalent in the classroom. Unfortunately, the feedback can take a long time for students to receive. It can take time before a paper is returned, a test is graded, or your average grade for the quarter is given which can make the clear measure of progress a little fuzzy. What we can learn from the games we play is that the faster the feedback, the easier it is to attribute that feedback to a behavior. Formative Loop is a daily math practice. Each day we see our students getting the feedback as to whether they have passed to the next level. This in itself is a reward, and students are driven by it!

Learning from games, we have added a new points system to Formative Loop. This system gives students points for practicing their math skills (5 points) and even more for making progress (10 points when they master a skill). Each day, students will see their total points earned on the top of their practice paper.

Educators then build real-world reward programs off of these points. Having a large array of options is beneficial to the students. Here’s some typical items in the reward system:

  • 100 points – large reward (trip to the treasure box, lunch with the teacher, Hershey kiss from the principal)
  • 50 points – medium reward (line leader, shoes off day, bring a toy from home)
  • 25 points – small reward (get a sticker, choose the story to be read, choose your seat)

You may ask why we give points even when students don’t master a skill.

The reason is, we want the students to feel encouragement even for trying. This is a daily practice, not the final exam. The more engaged in practice our students are, the better the overall outcome will be.

You can also print out copies of our currency template if you want the students to practice with printed money they earn from their points.

We think this is an amazing addition to the program which will continue to build positive momentum with our students. We’d love to hear the rewards you have built around Formative Loop points. Share your stories with info@formativeloop.com!

Formative Loop Summer Webinars

Academic Turnaround for Title 1 Schools

Learn about the 5 academic programs that get outstanding results. Presented by National Blue Ribbon principal and Terrel H. Bell Award winner Blaine Helwig.

  • Monday 7/31 3:00 CST
  • Wednesday 8/10 3:00 CST
  • Numeracy on your campus: They key to mathematics performance  

    Simple approaches for your campus to help struggling students in Title 1 Schools achieve grade level readiness in just one school year. Presented by Blaine Helwig.

  • Thursday 7/27 3:00 CST
  • Tuesday 8/8 3:00 CST
  • Introduction to Formative Loop

    Formative Loop has been turning around math scores through daily practice and quickly identifying skill gaps. Learn best practices for using the program in your classrooms.

  • Wednesday 8/9 3:00 CST
  • Wednesday 8/16 3:00 CST
  • Subtraction Facts: Elementary Students’ Math Fact Nemesis

    Kids learn single digit addition and multiplication facts quickly. They are helped by the commutative property of mathematics (2 + 3 = 3 + 2 and 4 x 5 = 5 x 4). If the addition or multiplication of 1’s (1 + 3 or 4 x 1) are not counted, there are only 36 discrete single digit addition and multiplication facts to learn.

    Not true with subtraction facts: 8 – 5 = 3 and 8 – 3 = 5 appear as two separate subtraction facts. They are to a young student in the same fact family, but students must learn both of these subtraction facts. There is no commutative property of subtraction. To complicate matters, students must also learn double digit subtraction facts subtracting a single digit (13 – 8 = 5 and 13 – 5 = 8). Ask any elementary math teacher – the vast majority will agree. Subtraction facts are kids’ main adversary.

    Is there a method to help kids to quickly learn many of their subtraction facts? Yes. There is!
    Students still need to learn single digit from single digit subtraction facts (5 – 3 = 2 and 9 – 6 = 3), but those facts are much easier than single digit numbers subtracted from a double digit number (i.e. 17 – 9 = 8). There is a method that is very helpful in the latter case and adds numeracy skills of number sense and base 10 mathematics at the same time. This subtraction technique relies on student proficiency of the addition of two single digit numbers – a skill that is typically mastered well before working on subtraction facts.

    This method is shown below using the math fact 15 – 7 = 8 with a typical subtraction fact format.



    This method may appear complicated, but it has merit. After students are able to ‘Make 10’ quickly, they become very adept at the process – and subtraction facts are quickly mastered. The math skill of ‘Making 10’ should be taught to mastery prior to using this subtraction technique. Skill practice sheets for ‘Making 10’ are available in the Formative Loop Numeracy Resources Library.

    Teachers should show the process on a number line so kids visually understand the physical nature of the mathematics and why this process ONLY works when subtracting a 1 digit number from a 2 digit number.

    Announcing Certificates of Achievement

    We wanted to make you all aware of a new feature we released this week: Achievement Certificates.  When a student progresses through a skill level, we will automatically include a printed certificate you can use to recognize their achievement.  Some teachers may want to hold these to present them all at once at an assembly, or feel free to hand them out the day the student receives the award.

    Here’s an example of the new certificates:
    certificate
     
    When the feature is enabled, you will also find a new menu item under Manage Students -> View Achievements.  This will allow you to create a certificate at any time.
     
    viewachievements
     
    We hope your students are motivated by the new feature!  Please share any feedback you have!