Fourth-graders at Wyoming Elementary learn arithmetic facts by playing games

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Daily life is easier once you’ve memorized the basic facts of arithmetic. That’s why flash cards have been with us for generations.

But at Wyoming Elementary, modern technology has stepped in to change the drill to a game.

Kids love it because their memorization work is rewarded with computer games.

Teachers love it because students are motivated, learning takes place and progress is easy to track.

Even parents love it, because they don’t have to get their children to work with flash cards at home.

At the Feb. 6 school board meeting, three teachers from Wyoming Elementary reported on the Reflex program from ExploreLearning in Charlottesville, Va., a member of Cambium Learning Group of Dallas.

Reflex is a math enrichment program used to learn the basic facts of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, designed to be used in grades 2 to 8.

Each session starts with a fact check, which takes about 30 seconds, and proceeds to a coaching session on new facts. The student types a family of math facts into a computer, for example,   6 + 7 = 13, 7 + 6 = 13,         13 – 7 = 6, 13 – 6 = 7.

The software determines whether the student is fluent in this fact family (taking into account the student’s typing speed, so slower typists are not penalized). Then the math concepts are reinforced in a set of games. The program adapts to each student, providing individualized instruction.

Karen Richards, who works  with hearing-impaired children in the special education department at Wyoming Elementary, said she discovered Reflex when her son used it. She went on-line to learn more and found a grant program for teachers in elementary and junior high schools.

The teachers participate in a two-hour training webinar, then use the program at least three days per week, until full fluency is achieved. Each session lasts about 20 minutes.

Students can use Reflex during the school day, as part of after-school programs, or at home. The teachers provide progress updates and complete online surveys.

ExploreLearning values the grant at $1,625.

With fourth-grade teacher Katie Edwards, Richards applied for the grant. They share access with the entire fourth grade and special education classes.

Teacher Penny O’Brien said the program is having a positive effect on achievement.

“Scores go up, problem-solving skills go up, life is easier,” she said.

The publisher’s website reports that case studies of second-, fourth-, and sixth-grade students show using Reflex has a strong impact on math test scores.

For fourth grade, students with high Reflex usage increased their state math test pass rate by 22 percentage points over the previous year, more than double the state average change of 10 points.

The website also points out that students who do not master basic arithmetic facts often struggle in middle school math.

Ferguson said Wyoming Elementary students are excited to use Reflex.

“They walk in at 9:00 in the morning and ask, ‘Are we gonna do Reflex at 3:00?’” she said.

O’Brien agreed: “They’re so excited to get to the games, they go lickety split” through the exercises.

“I myself may have gone into the games to play Alien Sundae,” Ferguson added.

The teachers said it is difficult to get students to work with flash cards after school, but not Reflex.

“They’re doing Reflex at home, competing with their peers to get more [virtual] coins,” Ferguson said.

Individual competition is not discouraged, and there are even group challenges, pitting one class against another.

The software uses the time it takes to complete a task to tell students how “fluent” they are. A student who is almost 100 percent fluent in a fact set can advance to the next level.

Students try hard to memorize the fact families on the tutorial, so they’ll do well on the timed game that follows. The teachers said students are accessing math facts more quickly, with less use of fingers.

Teachers, parents and students can see what facts the student has mastered.

When school board member Karen Morehead asked if there was a plan to get money for the program next year, the teachers said they are working to secure funding.