Research shows that with no cultural influences, there are negligible gender differences in math learning, with girls doing as well as boys right through the school years. If anything, in the early years of education girls tend to do somewhat better.
There are ways to level this playing field even in the elementary years though, and many parents and teachers say Splash Math is a great tool to achieve this. Sister Monica Martin, one such teacher using Splash Math, shares more with us.
Sr. Monica is an elementary school teacher at St.Theresa School, Kekaha, Kauai, Hawaii, the westernmost Catholic school in the United States. This private school is in a lower population rural area resulting in small class sizes, Sr. Monica’s 2nd/3rd grade combined class for instance consists of only 12 students, 7 of whom are girls. Her small class packs a punch though, currently placed #4 on the SpringBoard leaderboard!
You have a small class, with a predominance of girls. How does math learning play out in your class, and are there any differences in the way girls and boys learn and perform in math?
My experience has been that at the 2nd/3rd grade age, girls tend to do better when we use the traditional methods of math teaching and learning. By traditional I mean books, worksheets, and practice with straightforward question and answer formats. Boys are not intrinsically disadvantaged in any way in their ability to grasp concepts or practice, it is just that those methods are less conducive to engaging and motivating them.
While this wasn’t the reason I started using Splash Math, I noticed immediately that this gender difference disappears when my students do math on Splash Math. The boys in class do much better in terms of interest and motivation in math learning. The girls love Splash Math as well, but the boys now are on par with the girls in terms of engaging with math – that was an unexpected and very welcome change in my class thanks to Splash Math.
Why do you think that is happening?
Children of today are used to fun and engaging digital games content available to them on various devices. I cannot think of any child, boy or girl, in my class in the last few years who has not loved those.
Contrast that with traditional methods of learning, and there is no denying that with a few students, mainly boys in my experience, there is some level of disengagement and lack of motivation. Even in online programs for math, if it’s just a digital version of the same type of paper worksheets they were otherwise used to, it doesn’t really help.
When I introduced Splash Math to my students, the excitement was palpable. They found the characters and overall design attractive. The experience remained interesting as they continued to use it, and they went on to enjoy the game elements like earning rewards on reaching math learning milestones.
It is not just these design and game elements that engage though. My students found the different ways of approaching a math concept quite thought-provoking. For example, questions covering fractions are presented in different ways, from different perspectives, in a real life context, with fun methods of answering them. I think the core math content has been given a lot of thought to, and that really shows.
Tell us more about how you use Splash Math in class, and it’s fit with your lesson plans.
We did not have much computer access till recently and so when we were awarded a Chromebook grant and my class became 1:1 as a result, I was really excited. I am a tech and computer geek and have wanted to introduce some thoughtfully developed digital educational resources to my students. With the computer grant I now could.
When I looked at Splash Math, the first thing that struck me was the great curriculum – since it’s Common Core aligned, I liked the fit with my lesson plans. Once I started using it with my students, I realized I could use it for math learning in some very important ways.
Filling gaps in understanding can be a challenge for teachers especially in a differentiated class, and Splash Math can be a great tool for this. For example, if I see that my students are struggling with a skill we’re currently learning, I tell them to just spend time on Splash Math on that skill. In Splash Math, the content adapts to the student, so if a student gets a certain type of question wrong a few times, he or she is taken through a different learning path, and for the students who get a few right but are struggling at a slightly higher level of understanding of the concept, the content is different, aiming to strengthen the skill at that level. This is very useful, as though there are many helpers in class helping me individualize the teaching. Even the students who are behind are able to catch up.
The teacher resources on Splash Math are a great help. The reports tell me the progress of each child, % correct in each area and skill, and how much time they have spent on Splash Math, including the number of problems they have attempted. This is a great resource that I check daily at the end of the school day, as it helps me very quickly plan their math for the following day or rest of the week.
In all, Splash Math is a great math learning program for my class. We use Splash Math for 45 minutes every day that the class is in session.
Can you describe to us your students’ typical reactions to Splash Math?
Well, they all get excited when I say it’s Splash Math time! They enjoy the assignments, they have fun with the drag-drop and other ways to answer questions, and they like to get immediate feedback from the Hippo – whether they’ve answered right or wrong – they continue to remain motivated to try more.
Some of them even access it from home. Parents tell me that they log in and work on math without anyone telling them to do it.
The last five minutes of Splash Math our class reaches it’s peak of excitement! That’s when they are allowed to go to the aquarium – cash in on their earnings and buy things like food, more fish, and so on. Stacking the crabs is my students’ favorite, hands down. I can’t help but smile at their exclamations over their aquariums – the fun and excitement is so contagious! It’s a great way to reward and end a very fruitful learning session in math.
How has the SpringBoard experience been?
That just added to the excitement even more for us. Not that they needed any carrots for doing math on Splash Math, but the fact that we got to the leaderboard was certainly a big motivation. My students love to check the class points and standing on the leaderboard everyday, but most importantly (and whether they eventually win or not), they feel an immense pride in their work – at what they were able to accomplish as a class despite being a small one. That feeling of ‘we can do anything if we set our minds to it’ is, in of itself, a triumph for my class.