Visual Math Gaming

I have been very interested in math lately in a pondering and questioning kind of way. Perhaps because I see opportunities for improvement in the way math content is currently delivered. I recently happened across a great article from 2014 entitled, “Research on Children and Math: Underestimated and Unchallenged“, by Annie Murphy Paul, which explained why the perception that U.S. students are bad at math might indicate schools aren’t challenging students enough. I also just read a book by Jo Boaler titled Mathematical Mindsets: Unleashing Students’ Potential Through Creative Math, Inspiring Messages and Innovative Teaching, that addressed ways via a mindset shift to banish math anxiety and give students of all ages and abilities a clear roadmap of strategies to unleash their math potential. Finally, my many visits to classrooms have made me also realize just how language dependent that math has really become. As a district, we have been reimagining what a variety of core content areas can look like in the future and math is one of them. The product that I’m going to share a little insight on and one we are beginning to pilot in the 4th, 6th and 7th grades for the 3rd Trimester in my district is called ST Math.

ST Math is a game-based instructional software designed to boost math comprehension and proficiency through visual learning from foundational math concepts all the way up to algebraic skills. This blended learning tool is accessed through a web-browser, on an iOS or Android App, or even on a Kindle. From demoing the game at different grade levels, the learning experience seems to be very interactive, filled with a variety of graphically-rich animations that represent mathematical concepts to practice and develop deeper conceptual understanding, and an JiJi No BGopportunity to really grow a user’s problem-solving skills. Teachers determine the program placement for each student and then students are guided by JiJi, the penguin, and encouraged to intuitively navigate through the gaming environment. Every time a student demonstrates an understanding of a targeted math concept/skill, JiJi meanders across the screen to signal success as well as lead the student to the next challenging puzzle. ST Math also utilizes a teacher dashboard and offers embedded assessments, detailed progress monitoring and whiteboard integration.

According to MIND Research, the creator of the ST Math system, their mission is to “ensure that all students are mathematically equipped to solve the world’s most challenging problems”. The ST Math program is closely aligned with the Common Core State Standards and our District curriculum. Potentially, this program closely aligns with our District Strategic Framework and Learner Profile in providing personalized learning through a scaffolded learning environment, removing the language barrier to learning math for students of all abilities, and equipping students’ spatial temporal reasoning abilities to better understand, explain, solve and master multi-step math problems. I’m really looking forward to observing the role that neuroscience plays in visual math instruction throughout the 3rd Trimester from both a student and teacher lens.


Boaler, J. (2016). Mathematical mindsets: unleashing students’ potential through creative math, inspiring messages, and innovative teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass & Pfeiffer Imprints.

MIND Research

MIND Research on Neuroscience –

ST Math Results –


Improving Online Motivation Through Emails

Huett, J. B., Kalinowski, K. E., Moller, L., & Huett, K. C. (2008). Improving the motivation and retention of online students through the use of ARCS-based e-mails. The American Journal of Distance Education, 22, 159-176.

Huett et al., created a study to examine how periodic mass email messages could improve the motivation and retention of students enrolled in an online course. They felt there are significant challenges when it comes to retaining online learners and were searching for a simpler approach to motivating those learners in a cost-effective way, fit within the time constraints of the class or for the teacher, and could be seamlessly integrated into the teaching and learning process (p. 160). The authors selected the ARCS model as the overall framework for creating the motivational mass emails because the approach attempts to synthesis behavioral, cognitive, and affective learning theories and demonstrates that learner motivation can be influenced through external conditions (Huett et al., 2008). Through their research, studies have cited that motivation can account for 16% to 38% of the variations in overall student achievement (Means et al., 1997), thus the importance of designing appealing instruction to manipulate learner motivation for online learning courses.

According to the authors, there has been little research in using the ARCS model for motivational messaging in online learning. I do believe there is value in studying this phenomena as a potential mass intervention to improve learner motivation and performance in an online learning environment. The ARCS model is quite comprehensive and broken down into two parts. The first part of the model is a set of categories (attention, relevance, confidence, satisfaction) that represent the components of motivation and the second part of the model is a systematic design process that assists in creating motivational enhancements that are appropriate for a given set of learners. Overall, the study revealed that there was a statistical difference in means between students receiving the treatment and those who did not receive the treatment. In fact, Huett et al., highlighted that there was a statistical difference in every measure of motivation except relevance in the study and explained why given the nature of the treatment that their results made sense (p. 171). Additionally, the study yielded greater student retention as well as a lower student failure rate for the treatment group. Any positive findings related to new motivation and retention strategies should warrant further studies.

In my district, we do offer online learning courses for students who need credit recovery, a class that is not offered for a specific hour or trimester and/or for a class generally not offered. The program is administered through our Alternative High School and students who participate must take their online classes within the school district in designated locations during the school year. Although the online programming is somewhat manageable now, as the number of students requesting online classes continues to grow, I feel it is important to develop a set of strategies and interventions to support a multitude of learners and realize that not all communication exchanges can be personalized each and every time. This study gives pause to current and future practice and potentially represents another tool to use to complement our current efforts.

Means, T., Jonassen, D., & Delaney, H.D. (1997). Enhancing relevance: Embedded ARCS strategies vs. purpose. Educational Technology Research and Development, 45, 5-17.

Capturing Videos on Classroom Teaching

Kleinknecht, M. Schneider, J. (2013). What do teachers think and feel when analyzing videos of themselves and other teachers teaching? Teaching and Teacher Education, 33, 13-23.

Kleinknecht and Schneider present a detailed study about the specific effects of the types of videos on teachers’ cognitive, emotional and motivational processes while watching instructional videos. The researchers suggest that having classroom instructional footage allows the observers to draw multiple connections to their own practice and to achieve a deep level of engagement and involvement (p. 14). Furthermore, the analysis of classroom videos not only activates the cognitive processes, but it also impacts the teachers’ emotions and motivations. Through a quasi-experimental design, the authors conclude that teachers observing others’ teaching through video are better able to concentrate on critical situations and analyze sequences in greater depth versus viewing their own classroom videos (p. 21). Additionally, the study findings reveal that there is no significant difference with emotion and motivation regardless if a teacher is watching their own classroom video or watching another teacher’s instructional video.

I think research on this topic is very important to building capacity of teachers for professional purposes. As mentioned in the article, taking video of teachers teaching in their classrooms capture the essence of the teaching and learning process in an authentic manner and serves as an artifact that can be viewed by the teacher and his/her peers or the evaluating administrator one time or multiple times. According to Kleinknecht and Schneider, there are some limitations to their study, such as a small sample size that limited the generalizability of the results as well as limited video review conditions to a specific set of goals and instructions. Recognizing these limitations, the authors suggest that future video viewing processes should be tweaked to allow teachers control over how many times they view their videos and that it is important to prepare teachers for the analysis of observing their own teaching in individual settings to gain deeper cognition and the same level of reflection from watching others’ videos.

I recently participated in a national educational conference where a school superintendent talked about the teachers in her district videotaping their classroom lessons with the Swivl robotic platform to improve instructional practice and submit as proof for their teacher evaluation eportfolio. The superintendent felt that capturing and using video in a classroom setting is a powerful, authentic and safe way for teachers to reflect on their practice and motivated their teachers to try new ways to engage and instruct their students. I plan on sharing this approach with our district administrative team to consider implementing initially as an opt-in staff basis. Based on what I read and what was shared on this topic at my conference, I would probably extend this approach to include having the teacher find a trusted peer to share videos with for reflection and collaborative purposes, add in a Google Hangout component with an instructional coach to help facilitate deeper reflection and also offer any other needed supports to foster positive teacher growth.