ST Maths is an award-winning, web-based visual program that builds a deep conceptual understanding of maths through rigorous learning and creative problem-solving, available in Australia exclusively through Modern Teaching Aids (MTA).
ST Maths has been developed by MIND Research Institute – a nonprofit social impact organisation specialising in neuroscience and education in California. For over two decades MIND has worked towards redefining maths education and developed a successful program steeped in the belief that every student has the potential to deeply understand, and truly love maths.
Education Matters spoke to MTA’s General Manager of Education Resources, Michelle Kelly, to learn more about ST Maths’ unique and innovative approach that leverages the brain’s innate spatial temporal reasoning ability to solve mathematical problems.
Kelly says the ST in ST Maths stands for spatial temporal, which describes the brain’s ability to manipulate objects in space and time to solve problems.
“The program starts by teaching the foundational concepts visually, then connects the ideas to the symbols, language and robust maths conversation,” she says.
“This approach works so well because, with visual learning, students are better equipped to tackle challenging problems, tackle non-routine problem solving and get informative feedback.”
One of the key benefits of this approach, Kelly notes, is that when you remove language barriers, maths problems become accessible to all students, regardless of their skill level or language background.
“Experience teaches us that students grasp different concepts at different times in their learning journey, so a one-size-fits-all model that requires all students to move at the same pace will inevitably leave some students lagging behind,” she says.
Kelly believes that maths instruction in particular benefits from individualised, scaffolded teaching methods and regular skills practice in a variety of contexts.
“A web-based program such as ST Maths that provides scaffolded support to students and accommodates non-linear learning journeys allows students to move at their own pace, repeat problem types they struggle with and apply mathematical thinking strategies to a diverse range of problems, which is beneficial to all students,” she says.
“The more individualised the program can be, the more beneficial it is to a large mixed-ability class where one-on-one teacher time is at a premium.”
Kelly explains how ST Maths’ student interface is designed to maximise productive time on task, by eliminating the distracting and counter-productive elements of gamification often employed by other platforms.
“There are a great many online maths learning programs that gamify student activity using points, rewards, flashy arcade-game-style animations and/or rely on speed. The trouble with these particular types of gamification is that they create a system that can actually be demotivating for some students or result in shallow learning,” she says.
Kelly says that, instead, ST Maths utilises carefully selected elements of gamification – such as appealing characters and interesting problems – that engage and encourage students to persist while developing the deeper conceptual understanding or mathematical thinking skills needed for long-term success.
In place of arbitrary points or rewards, ST Maths’ student-facing activity tracking and feedback methods focus on supporting the development of students’ confidence, as well as their ability to self-evaluate and self-correct.
“Animated, informative feedback offers an intrinsically motivating learning experience that shows students the mathematical consequences of each answer. Students don’t just guess at multiple choices, or worse, get a question wrong and wonder why,” says Kelly.
“This helps students understand the idea of productive struggle: the idea that they are learning when they make mistakes and how powerful it is when they figure something out for themselves.”
As a flexible instructional tool that can fit easily into many different learning environments, the program has features that both motivate students and allow teachers to track the individual progress of students at a granular level, such as teacher reports that illustrate the maths outcomes each student has covered, as well as the amount of time spent using the platform and puzzle completion.
According to Kelly, not only does ST Maths increase productivity and concentration levels, but there are more than 100 efficacy studies that show how time on task is a key factor correlating ST Maths use with increased state test scores. Schools see proven, repeatable results
Kelly says that with the ST Maths program, although students are initially set at a grade level based on their class, there is no limit to where they can be placed in the maths skills continuum.
“For example, a student who is confident with Number but lagging in Algebra can be set lower-level Algebra problems to support their development whilst moving ahead in Number,” she says.
“Best of all, in the class view a teacher is given a visual alert symbol that shows when a student has had multiple incorrect attempts at a task or problem. This allows the teacher to quickly view the whole class, identify those students currently in need of support and instantly see the problem type or content area that they need additional help with.”
ST Maths includes more than 35,000 puzzles with interactive representations of maths topics that align to Australian curriculum, with learning objectives that target key grade level concepts and skills.
And with over 100 efficacy studies it’s proven to work. Large scale studies have shown that schools using ST Maths consistently outgrew similar schools in statewide ranking by an average of 14 per cent.
“It really is the cornerstone of an equity strategy—providing equitable access to learning tools proven to help all students,” Kelly says.
“Using diagnostic tools to identify gaps in student understanding and then assigning topics that can support students to engage and develop that conceptual understanding will go a long way in bringing all students up to grade level. ST Maths is uniquely qualified to support teachers with this goal.”
To find out more about ST Maths and to enjoy a free trial of the ST Maths platform, visit MTA’s website at https://www.teaching.com.au/page/mta-au-st-maths.