01 Nov For the Love of Math: The MIND Research Institute Inspires Kids to See the World Mathematically
When it comes to mathematics education in Orange County, the numbers don’t always add up to a bright outlook for our youngest learners. The newest OC Community Indicators Report revealed that half of Orange County third-grade students met or exceeded the statewide achievement standard for mathematics during the 2014-15 academic year. The numbers for eighth-grade students are even more alarming, with only 44 percent meeting or exceeding the mathematics achievement standard. These statistics confirm the need for innovative approaches to help Orange County students master mathematics, such as the work of MIND Research Institute. At MIND, they are revolutionizing math education through visual learning, and its game-based instructional software for K-12 is a nationally recognized tool to build STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) proficiency. Beyond its visually engaging approach, MIND is breaking barriers by challenging the way we think about math education.
“We need to banish the misconception that math education should be easy,” said Matthew Peterson, Ph.D., MIND cofounder, chief executive officer and senior scientist. “Students need to be challenged. They need to go through struggles to build a deep, profound understanding of math. And when we present them with tantalizingly tricky problems, we help them develop a thirst for challenge and a love of math. They find it rewarding.”
In the early 1990s, Peterson and two other University of California researchers united to change the way math is taught. They formed MIND in 1998 to apply their ideas and develop innovative, visually based software games. To date, they’ve influenced more than 2.3 million students across the United States. This year alone, MIND is reaching 1,000,000 students and 39,000 teachers in 3,100 schools in 43 states.
Educators credit MIND with helping them address many of the significant challenges they face in educating our youth, such as language barriers and learning disabilities.
“But these are not challenges with easy solutions,” Peterson said, pointing out that MIND’s programs are helping them acquire the problem-solving and math proficiency needed to compete in a knowledge-based economy – something their performance on standardized tests can’t measure.
“Our goal is to see Orange County collectively working together to innovate – to create environments in which students want to put in that productive struggle that yields a deep understanding of math,” he said. “Students have to develop a deep understanding of math as well as the perseverance to learn despite any challenges they face and the grit to keep trying until they solve problems.”
Peterson is adamant about challenging Orange County to zero in on efforts to reform math education.
“This is a requirement for every student in Orange County – not just low-income students,” he advocated. “This is an issue for every educator in Orange County. This is a need for society because we’re talking about enabling students to be prepared to join an advanced STEM workforce. They’ll be leading a complex world with challenges that need a deep understanding of math to solve.”
He believes that the kind of preparation needed to ensure all students are mathematically equipped to solve the world’s most challenging problems must begin early.
To accomplish this, MIND reaches even the youngest learners in kindergarten and elementary school with a methodology based on spatial-temporal reasoning. This ability, which lies at the core of innovative thinking and sophisticated problem-solving, allows the brain to hold visual, mental representations in short-term memory and evolve them in space and time, thinking multiple steps ahead.
This radically different approach to mathematics education is paying off. Schools that fully implement MIND’s Math game-based instructional software report double – even triple – the growth in math proficiency than comparable schools.
Beyond just test scores, these results are adding up to success. “We’re making a large-scale impact on children across the country, better preparing them for achievement in school and the workplace,” Peterson said. “We have great educators in Orange County, and our partnerships with Anaheim City School District and Santa Ana Unified, districts that have embraced ST Math and our innovative approach to teaching math very early on, are paying off.”
You can help support math education in Orange County by getting involved with MIND Research Institute and other nonprofits pioneering innovations in K-12 education. You’ll find profiles of these organizations at OC Nonprofit Central.