Gilroy Prep School nets grant, will implement innovative program

Eliot Elementary Principal James Dent looks on as a student

For many people,

math

and

fun

don’t correlate.
However if today’s adults had access to the gamelike computer
software utilized by students at Eliot, Rod Kelley and Glen View
Elementary Schools, they might see things differently.
For many people, “math” and “fun” don’t correlate.

However if today’s adults had access to the gamelike computer software utilized by students at Eliot, Rod Kelley and Glen View Elementary Schools, they might see things differently.

“You can see them puzzling through it,” said Eliot Principal James Dent, looking on as a tiny kindergarten student paused midproblem, then with a click of the mouse proceeded with the correct answer. “It’s conditioning for your brain.”

The program is called ST Math, a learning tool that uses engaging courseware to employ the learners’ spatial temporal reasoning abilities to explain, understand and solve multistep math problems, according to the company’s website.

Dent, who is preparing to depart Eliot for his new position as head administrator of Gilroy Prep School – a brand new charter set to open in August 2011 – received word Friday that GPS will receive the program through a philanthropic grant from ST Math Project: Silicon Valley. The community partnership is set up between local schools and several corporate sponsors.

Given they were getting ready to shell out the money for what they feel will be a must-have ingredient in their curriculum, GPS administrators are thrilled with the $45,000 in savings.

“This program makes the kids so smart,” said Dent. “This is going to help us tremendously.”

The possibilities are in the proof.

Since Eliot implemented ST math for the second and third grades last year, math performance on the Standardized Testing and Reporting tests jumped.

In 2009, for example, 28 Eliot second graders tested as “advanced.” In 2010 that number spiked by an additional 14 students. In 2009, five students tested as “far below basic,” where as in 2010 that category was zero.

Third grade results saw similar improvement, the number of students categorized as “advanced” increasing by 16 in 2010.

Exercises are centered around a wide-eyed tuxedoed penguin named JiJi, who is navigated past obstacles only when correct answers are generated.

Dent showed a mock-up of the official GPS school logo, which may incorporate the waddling bird as the charter’s official mascot if permission is granted.

The cute character is a pillar of what makes this highly visual learning format where problems are brought to life stand out. The concept of greater than or lesser than, for example is played out in a cartoon tomato that gobbles coins and grows plump. Balancing an equation, rounding to the nearest decimal – everything is seamlessly translated to engaging animations and interactive illustrations.

It’s all part of Dent calls “concentrated thinking time,” each level gradually building up to more complex thought processing.

He agreed it would be great to see ST Math throughout the district, but pointed out schools in general don’t actively look for new software – costly price tags being one reason.

Still, he feels it’s crucial to not let students marinate in one specific program. New learning elements keep academic environment fresh – not stagnant – and contribute to how a young person’s brain develops, he said.

“We’re excited for the new program,” he said. “Obviously it gives great results.”

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