BETHLEHEM, PA—First In Math® creator Robert Sun visited Calypso Elementary and spoke with a crowd of more than 180 guests at the school’s Family Math Night. Pre-K through fifth-grade students and their parents, grandparents and siblings listened intently as Sun told them how math played an integral role in his unconventional journey to success.
Inventor Robert Sun shared graphics of the new First In Math VIFs™ module, as well as personal photos, that help explain his journey to success.
Sun emigrated from China to West Philadelphia at age nine. One of four children being raised by a single parent, he struggled to learn English, but eventually connected to others through math.
Sun would go on to earn an Engineering degree from the University of Pennsylvania, but decided his true calling was to help students succeed in math. He invented the 24® Game in 1988, debuted the First In Math® Online Program in 2002, and has now introduced an addition to the First In Math arsenal—the Very Important Facts™ (VIFs™) System—to provide students with a strong base of knowledge in foundational math skills.
After Sun spoke, students were given the opportunity to go to different tables—each table had games for them to play that were grade appropriate, including some from the 24® Game series. Student volunteers from Moravian College were stationed at the tables to help everything run smoothly.
Students could also go into the library to use Chromebooks and play First In Math, where FIM Project Coordinator Nancy Kane worked with students, parents and grandparents. “I had fun teaching families how to log in to First In Math at home,” says Kane. “At the end of the night, each family was given a 24® Game Anniversary Edition and a 24® Game bookmark to tie into Calypso’s Family Reading Night.”
Kane enjoyed the Reading Night posters of the children’s favorite stories displayed throughout the school. “They were very creative, well thought out and very artistic, clearly a lot of effort was put into them. It brought back memories of when my boys were young and were reading some of the same titles.”
According to Principal Kathy Bast, Calypso is the smallest school in the Bethlehem Area School District. It is truly a neighborhood school and retains a great sense of community. “We understand that it makes for a long day when we hold this type of event in the evening, but it demonstrates how truly dedicated our families are, and how important their child’s education is to them.” Bast’s own daughter attends Palmer Elementary, but joined her mom after school so she could meet Sun.
TELFORD, PA—Souderton Area School District’s Vernfield Elementary has a digital newspaper run by eager students and an amazing teacher, Cindy Edgar.
Young authors (l to r) Tyler Lutz, Connor Klock, Brycen Clarke
Recently, three fourth-grade students—Brycen Clarke, Connor Klock and Tyler Lutz—asked to interview one of the school’s biggest First In Math proponents, Vernfield Elementary Technology Teacher & Integration Coach Jennifer Kling, to discuss the program.
“It is a simple article, but it is not hard to imagine how proud and invested these boys are about the content,” says Kling. “They are truly inspired to be journalists, and they want to spread the good news about how First in Math can help all students.”
“We hope that everyone liked the article, and that everyone at First In Math knows how much Vernfield students appreciate the luxury of being able experience deep practice with their First in Math subscriptions,” says Edgar, who teaches third grade.
First In Math creator, Robert Sun, says he is thankful for energetic educators like Edgar and Kling—the latter a long-time, avid supporter of First In Math. “I admire her work building high levels of math achievement with her students over the years.”
Enjoy their story, below, reprinted with permission:
First In Math
By Brycen Clarke, Connor Klock, Tyler Lutz
Do you want to learn about First in Math? You will find out in this article!
We sat down with Mrs. Kling to ask her about First in Math. The inventor of First in Math is Robert Sun who also created the math game 24®. He believes math is patterns and it is important how a number connects with other numbers. The First in Math Online Program is used by more than 10 million students in the United States and other countries too!
During the beginning of October, our school, Vernfield Elementary, was in 38th place in the whole state of Pennsylvania. First place in the state was St. Laurence School. The average stickers per student in St. Laurence School was 4,472. Will Stover, a fifth-grade student in our school was ranked 45th in our state. Way to go Will! The top player in the nation in early October earned 37,568 points [stickers] and is from San Diego, California.
Part One of this article discussed factors that contribute to an important issue facing educators: studies show that up to 90% of what students are taught in school may be forgotten in as little as 30 days.
In his book, Why Don’t Students Like School, Daniel Willingham discusses how humans have evolved a way to get around limitations in working memory capacity. Through repeated practice, our brains turn procedures into loops that become automatic and are stored in our long-term memory. Only when skills become automatic can they can be called upon and executed without taxing our working memory.To comprehend how and why students have such a low rate of retention—and how we can prevent it—we must recognize that new learning builds upon a scaffolding of old mastery, and nowhere is this more critical than in mathematics.
“Each unique module on the First In Math site is specifically designed to provide automaticity in the basics—at each level. With their skills stored in long-term memory, students can build upon that mastery, and find new approaches to problem solving,” explains First In Math creator Robert Sun.
While educators agree that the best way to achieve mastery is through practice, many of them would also agree that they simply do not have time to supervise that practice. According to Suntex Executive Vice President Nan Ronis, they don’t have to. “First In Math’s robust assessment features make it easy to see whether a student’s foundation of skills is adequate for the current curriculum.”
According to Ronis, scalable assessment tools—such as the FIM Goals Index—make it easy to gauge solidification of the scaffolding children have established by a certain point in time. Teachers can then interact with their students, if needed, and offer a risk-free way to quickly fill in any missing skills through targeted practice activities on the First In Math site.
The site also provides students with individualized MY GOALS, TEAM GOALS and SCHOOL GOALS pages that encourage independent review and motivate students to ‘level-up’ within the program. “Self-assessment is very effective once children comprehend that they need to build upon each skill they learn, explains former teacher and current FIM Implementation Specialist Monica Patel.
“In this, educators and parents must play a larger role,” says Patel. It is our duty to constantly remind students that their job is to become problem-solvers, and not just be memorizers of facts for the short term. It is important that we show children how each little achievement today will help them succeed in an even bigger way tomorrow.”
Every teacher—and every parent for that matter—has seen it. The student who explained a geometry concept in class yesterday is panicking during today’s review of the very same topic. The young woman who completed her homework easily last week is completely confused this week.
How do students forget new skills so soon after they are taught?
In a recent article that appeared in Education Week’s online edition, Nicole Smith brings focus to the problem. “Whether it is a student who is struggling with remembering new knowledge or applying old knowledge, the problem is the same. New learning is heavily dependent upon old mastery, and quite often students are unable to access prior knowledge in order to move forward in their learning.”
“The best way to achieve mastery is through practice, but that is something students are often reluctant to do where math is concerned,” explains First In Math creator Robert Sun. “In basketball, when we shoot a free-throw and miss, the feedback through our physical senses is immediate, and we make mental and physical adjustments before our next try. When a child is solving mathematics problems alone at home or on a worksheet in class, there isn’t any built-in feedback, and not much active learning. Math can quickly become a meaningless, boring undertaking for many students.”
In contrast, First In Math’s digital gaming modules encourage students to practice the way they willingly do for sports and other activities. “As a gaming-based practice program with short cycles of play, First In Math provides the lively interaction and instant feedback students crave, along with the amount of Deep Practice necessary for skill retention, according to Sun. “Students learn by repeating, reassessing and fine-tuning skills, and are able to continually analyze and internalize new approaches to problem solving.”
“Young minds must be able to build pathways of memory, and the only way to really do this is through creative, interactive repetition,” says former teacher and current FIM Implementation Specialist Monica Patel, who explains that practice—at three times the amount of instruction time—is necessary for students to master new math skills.
“This is where a comprehensive math-practice tool like First In Math is essential—there is simply nothing like it.”
Look for Part Two, to be published next week.
EASTON, PA—In homes, libraries and at schools large and small, students across the globe have helped the First In Math online program achieve another amazing milestone—20 BILLION math problems solved!
First In Math creator Robert Sun was thrilled to see the total reach 20 billion at approximately 9 PM east-coast time on November 9th—and proud to know that the digital-gaming tool he launched in 2002 is clearly popular with students and teachers now more than ever.
Nearly 47% of time spent practicing math on the First In Math site occurs voluntarily, during after-school hours, and Sun believes it is because FIM allows each child to discover his or her ideal entry point to active learning. “In preserving a child’s ability to choose and explore, First In Math is able to offer content that contains real rigor within a framework that is not intimidating. This distinguishes us from all other math programs.”
At every skill level, First In Math modules are designed to reinforce mastery of basic facts, decimals, fractions, integers, exponents, variables and order of operations. Many introduce principles of Algebra—even at the K, 1 and 2 levels. Early introduction leads to enthusiasm and, according to Sun, is what brought students across the 20 BILLION threshold. “ALL students can become their own generators of energy and have passion for learning—given the right environment.”
EASTON, PA—Social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook have become a part of everyday life for most people—including educators—who recognize social media as a great way to celebrate student success, promote school goals, and communicate with other education professionals.
To paraphrase Wikipedia, social media “are computer-mediated technologies that allow individuals, companies, governments, and organizations to view, create and share information, ideas and interests via virtual communities and networks.”
First In Math Coordinator Nancy Kane (@Kane19Kane) believes it is that, and more. “Social media is one way educators can instantly connect with all of us at First In Math,” says Kane. “When we see a post on one of the First In Math® or 24® Game social media accounts about what a student, class or school has accomplished, it is really exciting, and we love to share their good news.”
Suntex President and FIM creator Robert Sun (@RobertSun24) employs social media to monitor what teachers and other educators around the globe are thinking and doing, in real-time. In addition to social media channels, Sun has allowed his perspectives on education to be published in leading media outlets, such as The Huffington Post, National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics Newsletter, eSchool News and The London Economic. Follow Sun’s Huffington Post articles
“We are excited to use tools such as Twitter and Facebook to communicate ideas and exchange information that may help and benefit our audience, because we feel it is extremely important to get teachers, parents and students talking about math,” says FIM Implementation Specialist Monica Patel (@AboutImpact).
Patel says that her desire to share ideas is strong but a busy schedule often interferes—making the spontaneity of social media a perfect solution. “If you have news or a math-related topic you’d like to discuss, it takes just a moment to get that conversation started.”
Follow First In Math® on Twitter: @FirstInMath
Follow First In Math® on Facebook: FIM-Facebook
Follow 24® Game on Twitter: @24game
MALVERN, PA—Sister Georgiana Connell I.H.M. has spent her whole life serving others, so it is no surprise that when she found herself unpacking her suitcase at Camilla Hall, a Convent home & healthcare center for Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, her first thought was “what can I do to help others while I am here?”
Left: Sister Marie Isabell listens intently as “Sister G” talks tech. Right: The Friday class always looks forward to their First In Math time.
Sister Georgiana teaches grades K through 4 Spanish at Sacred Heart School in Lancaster, PA. She is also Sacred Heart’s First In Math® Online Program coordinator, and has helped the tiny school become very successful on a national level, often placing among the National Top Ten Schools in the Small School category. She also plays, and was ranked 14th in the nation among all participating Educators in 2016.
While at Camilla Hall to rehabilitate a foot injury, she encouraged Sacred Heart students and teachers from a distance, but wanted to do more. “Camilla is blessed with dedicated employees who give their all for the Sisters, and they inspired me to help motivate some of the permanent residents in one of the best ways I know—through the First In Math program,” says Sr. Georgiana.
She got permission to use the laptop cart, and began regular classes every Friday to introduce and use the First In Math program. In addition to residents, some of the Sisters who work at Camilla Hall also joined the fun. Participants range in age from 50 to 90 years old.
Slowly, everyone noticed something magical was happening. First In Math became a topic of spirited discussion at lunch, or at other times when groups were gathered together. “Sisters like reviewing the math concepts as well as learning new things about computers,” according to Sr. Georgiana. “They’re having fun, and it has helped them develop another common bond.” The program became so popular that some Sisters were gifted new iPads so they could use the website whenever they wanted.
"It is a great joy to watch young students gain confidence as they learn, and it is the same here—age is irrelevant, everyone can learn," says Sister Georgiana. “First In Math is a perfect platform for any educational setting, because it’s not just the complete spectrum of math skills, the activities improve critical thinking, encourage creativity and keep the mind sharp.”
“Whether a person is 9 or 90, they are able to choose games that they can relate to, and this helps them master the skills they need,” explains Sister Georgiana. “Plus, First In Math’s friendly competition creates a wonderful camaraderie that can be invaluable—perhaps even priceless—in situations like this, as well as in the classroom.”
First In Math creator, Robert Sun, a long-time supporter of Sister Georgiana, sent a balloon bouquet along with his encouragement. “As a child, I was welcomed and supported by the Sisters of the IHM at St. Francis DeSales School in West Philadelphia, and they had a significant impact on my life and the direction I took in my career. I am so happy and proud to be in the position to continue to encourage this effort.”
Sister Georgiana returned to school in September, and says leaving Camilla Hall in July was bittersweet. But there is a plan in place. “Sister Pat Cabrey and Sister Barbara Bamberger are now coordinating the program and will continue with their own FIM Teams,” according to First In Math Project Coordinator Nancy Kane, who verified that Sun has donated licenses for two Camilla Hall Teams.
“Bringing First In Math to students around the world has been very rewarding—this opportunity to spread some excitement and challenge to the Sisters at Camilla Hall brings the feeling to a new level,” says Sun. “I truly appreciate all of the hard work, dedication and commitment these wonderful people bring to the lives of others.”
HOUSTON, TX—Wilson Academy, part of the Aldine Independent School District, is proud to be home to the top-ranked First In Math team, among all sixth-grade teams, in Texas. They are also ranked 24th nationally at the sixth-grade level.
Left to right: Sixth-grade Math Teacher and First in Math Team Leader Monica Leija; Christina Duong; Johnny Ho; Renny Hoang and Principal Dana Baker.
“I couldn’t wait to share the news and celebrate our sixth grade First In Math State Champions,” says proud sixth-grade math Teacher Monica Leija. “I am very excited about what these students have accomplished.“ The team averaged 7,885 Stickers per student.
“I want to especially congratulate the top three scorers on the 'ACE75TX' Championship team—who were also the top three players in the state: Johnny Ho (19,270 stickers), Christina Duong (18,866 stickers) and Renny Hoang (18,750 stickers),” says Leija. “These were their totals at the end of April, but I am happy to report that these students are continuing to achieve and earn more stickers.”
Uwe Langhammer, Wilson Instructional Technology Specialist, is excited about what all of the students have accomplished. “Wilson students solved more than THREE MILLION math problems during the FIM competition on their way to becoming the top-ranked intermediate school in Texas.”
First In Math Texas representative Tony Morrow monitored the school’s progress and stayed in contact throughout the year. “Many thanks to Tony, his constant support during the year was a big help,” says Langhammer.
Wilson Academy is an International Baccalaureate (IB) school. Founded in 1968, the IB is a program of international education “designed to help students develop intellectual, personal, emotional and social skills needed to live, learn and work in a rapidly globalizing world.”
WASHINGTON, DC—First In Math March Math Madness once again swept through the Washington D.C. Public Schools, creating a buzz around mathematics in classrooms throughout the district. “The play was incredible—and unpredictable,” says Lauren Allen, Coordinator of STEM Integration for the Office of Teaching and Learning, DCPS.
“I am very excited to see how much this event has grown each year,” says First In Math creator Robert Sun. “I want to congratulate all participants, and recognize the top sticker-earner during the month of March, Beverly Lee, from Watkins ES.”
Left: Top-scorer Beverly Lee uses First in Math almost daily. According to her teacher, Elizabeth O'Donnell, Beverly loves to earn stickers for the class, and sometimes gets up at 6 a.m. to log in and play! Right: The final bracket, and a Goals Index icon.
During the three-week elimination-style playoff, schools have to solve more math problems per-student than their opponent—over a two-day period—to advance. Grade level or proficiency doesn’t matter as there are hundreds of modules that can engage any skill level—what matters is effort and persistence in math practice. “We look only at growth during each round,” explains Allen. After a tie between Eaton ES and Van Ness ES in the Elite Eight round, the Final Four became five as Key ES, Patterson ES, Stuart-Hobson MS, Eaton ES and Van Ness ES battled to advance to the Championship round.
Van Ness Elementary emerged victorious over Key ES in the Championship round. Teacher Michelle Johnson took to social media with this message: “Congrats to our hard working Van Ness Otters for winning the Math Madness Competition!”
March Math Madness was one of two First In Math competitions held this year to engage students. Patterson ES won the Fall Fact Face-Off, which motivated schools to integrate FIM into their classrooms. While exciting, competitions such as these are not the only tools to help reach schools, according to Suntex Executive Vice President Nan Ronis.
“At the start of this school year, DCPS Math Director David Goodrich established a district objective that called for all schools to reach a First In Math Goal Index of at least 50. Teams and students would focus on that target—the interest in sustained activity being part of the school-year priority,” explains Ronis.
Ronis says that the importance of positive math experiences for young students cannot be emphasized enough, which is why tracking progress, setting goals and making math a real-world experience matter. Sun agrees. “When young children are actively engaged—in motivating activities like the DCPS/First In Math event—we are setting them on the road to real exploring and learning. Motivating the youngest learners and instilling a love of math is so vital.”
In the grades 3-8 category, schools such as Ross ES (77.2) and Hardy MS (59.7) have already surpassed the goal. Many others—Stuart-Hobson MS (46.9), Key ES (43.6) and Eaton ES (42.7)—are getting close. It is no coincidence that many of these schools performed well in the Math Madness tournament. “Ross ES boasts a perfect 25 out of 25 on the Activity Index and a whopping 21.2 on the Fact Fluency Index – those are great numbers, and show that their students are ahead of the curve where basic math skills are concerned,” says Ronis.
SAN DIEGO, CA—In March, a group of Valencia Park Elementary students who call themselves “Crockett’s Achievers” wrote a proposal to their teacher, Tamyka Crockett, offering 20 reasons why the First In Math Online program should be purchased for their classroom.
All 19 “Crockett’s Achievers” from Room 204 at Valencia ES contributed to the First In Math proposal.
Crockett shared the letter with Principal Lori Moore, who requested a meeting with some of the students. “The students prepared their evidence to argue the claim that First in Math is beneficial for all. These future leaders, lawyers, and CEOs convinced Ms. Moore—and a panel—that First in Math is worth the time and money to improve math fluency school wide,” says Crockett.
Each student offered a reason, and together they added one more, for a total of 20 reasons why they felt First in Math was necessary to their math education. Here are some highlights:
• It allows you to practice skills in depth. (Yehira)
• Everyone in the school will have access. Students with iPads can’t use some
other programs. (Mason)
• It helps with math fluency. (Anthony)
• First in Math is challenging. (Kassidy)
• First in Math is fun! (Kaelyn)
• You have opportunities to try again without feeling bad. (Chloe)
• More choices, you don’t feel stuck. (Ajani)
• You can control your learning. (Melanie R)
• Sound effects and graphics are modern. (Marissa)
• Headphones aren’t a necessity. (Alyson)
• First in Math updates with new games. (Julissa)
• We like the announcements for Player and Team of the Week. (Melanie A)
• Competition among fellow students. (Alexander)
• Families can play together! (Room 204)
Principal Moore believes that the First In Math program should be a good fit for her students. “We are one of four schools in the San Diego Unified School District that received a three-year grant to build STEAM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Art-Math) at our school. This will enable us to integrate rigorous academic concepts with real world experiences.”
Crockett is proud of her students, and she enjoys working with them every day. “Teaching is my passion. These students want to learn, and the letter they wrote to me is a great example of that. I see great things in these kids as learners—and as people.”
TAMILNADU, INDIA—On his first voyage to India in December 2015, Mr. Robert Sun got a taste of traditional Indian hospitality where the guest is royalty. “He thoroughly enjoyed it,” says First In Math India Pvt. Ltd. Senior Manager Daniel Allen, who accompanied Mr. Sun on the trip.
His arrival was heralded by a group of students and educators from Shree Sarasswathi Vidhyaah Mandheer (SSVM) World School, including teachers Mrs. Nagarathinam, Mrs. Manjula and Mrs. Leelavathi, who came to the Coimbatore airport to receive Mr. Sun and welcome him to a two-week tour of India. Donning hand-made badges and bearing flags with his picture, they garlanded Sun with fresh flowers and draped him in the traditional silk shawl.
Waiting for Mr. Sun to arrive at the Coimbatore Airport.
At SSVM, Dr. Manimekalai Mohan, founder and managing trustee, along with her husband, S.Mohan Doss, trustee, and lead administrator, Mr. Karthikeyan, welcomed Mr. Sun with a garland of 1001 fresh cardamoms. Later, students performed the traditional Indian Bharatnatyam classical dance recital in front of a gorgeously-decorated, hand-painted backdrop celebrating the elements of the First In Math programme.
“The reception I received at the airport, at SSVM—and really from everyone in India—was so warm and such an honor,” says Sun, creator of the award-winning First In Math educational programme.
Many greetings, meetings and feasts kept Sun busy during his two-week visit to India. Among other engagements, he was a featured speaker at the 76th IPSC Principal’s Conclave held at The Lawrence School, Ooty.
SSVM’s top First In Math player, Narain Loganathan, offered insightful words in a speech that preceeded an even more inspiring address by Mr. Sun to the entire faculty and student body.
In addition to enjoying the speakers, the guest of honor was impressed with the entertainment. “The dancers were incredible, everything was so colorful and rich,” says Sun, who explains that his description of the dancers could also be applied to the local cuisine. “The meals were delicious and so well-prepared!”
Mr. Sun enjoys a traditional banana leaf lunch.
We look forward to publishing several additional reports on Sun’s journey, including coverage of the IPSC Conclave and meeting with top educators and entrepreneurs in India. Sun’s message “Maths has universal power, and the power of maths transcends geographies and cultures,” is powerful, indeed.
TAMILNADU, INDIA—Narain Loganathan, based out of the Shree Sarasswathi Vidhyaah Mandheer (SSVM) World School in the Coimbatore District, was last week’s top-ranked First In Math player in the world, all standards. He overtook the previous internationally-ranked top player—from Academy of St. Paul school in New Jersey’s Archdiocese of Newark (U.S.)—in late December, 2015.
All SSVM students, standards 1-9, participate in the First In Math programme, and teachers use Player of the Day giveaway cards, handed out daily at morning assembly, to motivate students.
Loganathan got a late start on the programme last year but still rose to first in his school. “I saw that the people at the top of the Rankings already had about 30,000 stickers, and I thought that I would never accrue that many, so I decided to stop.”
In 2015, Loganathan started to play as soon as he got his FIM User ID. “This year, I tried to rectify my flaws and that has made me the #1 player. I spend about 30-60 minutes on First In Math most days. It definitely paid off.” The energetic 13-year-old says that playing First In Math taught him more about maths, and also “many great principles to adopt in our life. Not only did it improve my fundamentals in algebra, it also helped me tremendously in developing persistence. With persistence, you can become one of the top players in your state. And apart from that the program is quite fun to do!”
Aside from Loganathan’s individual success, the school has solved more than 56 lakh maths problems. All students in standards 1-9 participate. Dr. Manimekkalai, SSVM founder and trustee, began asking her teachers to use Player of the Day ‘giveaway cards’ which the children collect. They are handed out each day at the morning assembly, and earning them has become quite a motivator—perhaps the reason the school has attained top-ten status.
Since it first flickered across U.S. computer monitors in 2002, First In Math’s child-centric approach to education has distinguished it from other maths programmes. Within a framework, children choose activities they can relate to, so that they can more easily master the skills they need. “We do not force every student down the same path, but allow each child to discover his or her ideal entry point to active learning,” says Sun.
Sun believes that students who want to ‘level-up’ are incredibly motivated by ranking status—whether it be their own individual standing or that of their team or school. “First In Math Rankings can be a great tool in focusing these students. In addition, a Rankings structure can help teachers provide students with a common goal, which often boosts achievement.”
See More Articles in the News Archive