First in Math
is an online game designed to assist students in mastering facts and developing number sense in the privacy of their own virtual world.
For every three math problems students solve, they earn one virtual sticker. These stickers become a way to track kids' progress, as well as the bait that lures kids to play. Using an anonymous username, students are ranked by the number of stickers they earn individually as well as by class, grade and school at the district, state, and national levels.
Last November, when students at Pittsburgh Arlington attended their first ever First In Math assembly, they were encouraged to "chase the rankings" by committing to displace the rankings of other students with more stickers and move themselves and the school up. At that time, Arlington was in 35th place at the district level. Few people would have believed the kids at Arlington Academy could rise all the way to first place.
Led by math coach Kristi Applbaum and assisted by technology teacher Erin McClay, students in grades 3 – 8 at the Arlington Intermediate campus declared they would be number one in the Pittsburgh Public School District. They then began their long, scrappy journey through the rankings by slogging through a sea of basic math facts, fractions, measurement problems, integers, and test prep.
Students were given weekly incentives to play their hearts out, both in and out of school, earning thousands of stickers through the winter to find themselves at the third place plateau by early spring.
With their coach's and teachers' support and encouragement, students recommitted to their first place goal in Mid-March after PSSA testing, by launching an all-out assault on the rankings. Kids played in the back of their classrooms, when their classes went to the computer lab, when they were at home at night.
Kids without computers went to the library or to relatives' homes to log on and play. Students who had not been playing suddenly began to play. The whole school buzzed with the possibility of Arlington being in first place.
On May 15 at 4 p.m., with 2,400 stickers per student, that's exactly what they did. First in the district, Arlington also ranked 33rd in the state and 75th in the nation. In the end, Arlington students have solved 1,568,232 math problems.
For the teachers and coach at Arlington, this in itself is an amazing victory. But seeing they can be winners and achieve unlikely results has also been an amazing experience for the students of Arlington.
Contributed by by Kristi Applbaum