On the Shoulders of Geniuses

How an innovative, adaptive approach gets kids the tailored math education they need.  

GUEST COLUMN | by Javier Arroyo 

credit-smartickIn 2009, the homework topic was brewing again. Schools were rethinking long-standing homework policies. Parents wanted to know whether homework really impacted achievement and researchers were continuing to try to determine the necessity and importance of homework. According to the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) survey, most Western countries were not making much progress. (PISA measures reading, mathematics, and science literacy for 15 year olds around the world every three years.) In 2009, the U.S. average score in mathematics literacy may have been slightly higher than the U.S. average in 2006 but it was not measurably different from the U.S. average in 2003.

We help children develop “grit” — that quality that combines motivation, tenacity, and effort, and is one of the greatest signals of future success.

Meanwhile, government officials looked into the future, with its focus on technology and science, and put out the call for more kids to consider science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers. This just wasn’t happening: too many kids perceived math as difficult or boring.

We asked ourselves, “How could we get more kids interested in STEM learning and close the achievement gap at the same time?”

In 2009, after-school programs like Kumon were still considered state-of-the-art, even though the overall method was still similar to what had been developed in the ‘50s. Parents had to drive kids to a classroom where kids attempted to master problems for an hour or more, often multiple times a week. In this day and age, did it really make sense to have kids still using paper and pencil? And, like any classroom, there could be a wide range of math abilities. Some kids got left behind.

We thought, we do better with online learning methodologies. We could update the education model and take advantage of the latest technology. For example, we could use technology to assess and track a student’s performance data and use it to provide the most appropriate lesson immediately. Immediate feedback is important. Our program would adapt to each child who used it. We could introduce gamification, to give children incentives to finish their lesson. And we could put it all online so parents would not have to drive kids to classes; they could do it all at home.

After researching attention span as it related to learning, we found that 15-20 minutes a day of math education with our online format was optimal. Children can be fully focused for that period of time. Like unlocking any kind of achievement, daily practice is the most beneficial. A schedule of rewards keeps kids engaged long enough for them to see results themselves.

We launched my company in Spain in 2011. Our team of over 40 diverse specialists continues to look for the best learning techniques and how we can help kids learn. More than 25,000 children have used our platform.

Parents tell us that the custom approach works for their children. Some kids have low self-esteem because they think that math isn’t for them. Our approach builds their confidence. We know there are no children who are born with some sort of difficulty with math: there are children who have lost the “rhythm” at school. We can bring them back with access to specific tutorials when they need them. Alone with the computer or tablet, there’s no peer pressure. In the classroom, embarrassment and peer pressure can keep them from raising their hands and telling their teacher that they are lost.

Our solution may be focused on math logic problems in the program, but it also helps with reading comprehension. Parents get feedback on their child’s session as soon as they finished. Our tutor app helps parents get a clear sense of how their child is doing.

Our platform is not a game but we do use a virtual world to help keep students motivated. When they’ve finished their daily session, children can play with their avatar, in a virtual bedroom where they can place the things that can be purchased at the virtual store. They use the currency, or “ticks” that they earn for every correct answer. When they are finished with a lesson, our program sends them a diploma with the name of an important mathematician because we want them to appreciate that their progress was made on the shoulders of geniuses.

With our newsletters and blogs we also want parents to know that math achievement is earned. Kids need to practice and they need to expend effort. My company helps children develop “grit” — that quality that combines motivation, tenacity, and effort, and is one of the greatest signals of future success.

It’s now 2016. We just launched in English in the States. Our goal is that no child “hates math” because they don’t understand it or that some children can’t excel because they feel bored at the classroom. We deliver tailored math, perfect for each child.

Javier Arroyo is founder of Smartick, an online math education platform for children built with proprietary artificial intelligence adapting to each individual child’s learning style. Write to: hello@smartickmethod.com


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