Since my time in elementary school, I have been aware that math was one of those subjects that children love or hate. For some reason, there was never an in between.
To my mind, math was like a fireworks display on a foggy day: there was no spark or excitement, although I aced the subject without issues.
In one of those teacher’s moments, I reflected: Why’s that? Is that because of the mathematics, or the way math was taught to me?
Growing up, the only thing I knew was the reasons I had to ace math. Because that was the mantra said to me over and over again. Because I had to pass the exam to get into my university of choice—an equivalent version of the SAT or ACT. Because I would need math for my future.
But did math need to be that boring?
Thankfully, nowadays, there are quite a few ways of getting students drawn to math, making it fun and a part of children’s everyday life—especially at the elementary level, when students are still building up the foundation for concepts that will help them in the future.
Throughout my years of teaching, I have used several technology programs. Some of the most popular are Starfall, ABC Mouse, and IXL. Though those programs have excellent content, they don’t offer an exclusive math curriculum.
In a stroke of luck, or maybe serendipity, I was introduced to Smartick. This encounter couldn’t have come at a better time. I will focus my observations on the elementary level—more specifically, preschool up to fifth grade—which is the age group I have taught or tutored.
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What is Smartick?
Smartick is an innovative math program for young children, geared toward 4–14-year-olds.
For only 15 minutes a day, children work on different math concepts from the simplest to the most complex, at their own pace, and improve their math skills. Some of the concepts include counting, numbers and operations in tens, algebraic thinking, fractions, decimals, geometry, integers, functions and equations, and logic.
Smartick in Practice
The way it works is children go through a Level Assessment, which can run through several sessions if the student has advanced knowledge or a high educational level. Smartick assesses different areas and introduces more complex concepts as it goes. The idea is to focus on the areas the student needs to improve upon.
From this point, the math program suggests several exercises, each built on the previous one, so that the child can work to the best of his/her potential.
Each time a child moves up the ladder and masters a particular area, he or she works on another area which depends on the previous skill. There is no specific order or prescribed sequence for the activities. The program will deliver different exercises, and the way the child responds to the exercise will determine the next one.
For instance, during one of the assessments for Student T., a fifth-grader who I was tutoring, the child solved:
- 15 exercises in Positional Value—got 100% at a standard response rate.
- 17 exercises in Algorithm of Addition and Subtraction—got 94% at a fast response speed.
- Four exercises in Word Problems with Addition and Subtraction—got 75% at a low response speed.
In other words, to assess the student and tailor a program that fits his/her needs, Smartick not only take into consideration the fact that the child answers the question, but the rationale behind and the time invested in the question.
The Smartick Verdict
Honestly, when I first started with this math program, I was confused about what seemed to be the student going back to the same lesson. It took me a few sessions to understand that it was not a duplicated session, but the student picking up where he left off plus a revision.
This is a neat concept, and one that also led me to conclude the program has a savvy way not to get children bored and lose their spark about the subject.
That is why throughout the lessons, kids will receive tips to aid in finding the correct answers, be able to watch tutorials, or even have a choice of skipping the question by clicking the “I don’t know” at the bottom.
Children also receive some incentives along the way to keep them going strong and motivated—such as stars in the form of “ticks,” which they can accumulate and use for games later. They are also asked their opinion about the session at the end, which turns out to be engaging from a student’s perspective.
Parents will be able to monitor their children’s “motivations” in the parent’s section as well as their progress and tutorials. At the end of the sessions, they will also receive a report explaining how their kids did.
This program is different than others, in a sense, for it doesn’t follow the standard curriculum, although students work in skills they need to master in school.
With the understanding that children’s learning is not directly related to test scores and that it’s important to make a conscious effort to use innovative methods to teach math, I absolutely recommend this program, especially for children in the lower grades.
Like Student T., who enjoyed working on his tutorials, this program’s interactive tools are fun enough to get the kiddos enthused. And the foundation behind the activities aligns with the value proposition of the school curriculum standards. In the end, children will learn math through play. Therefore, I give Smartick a big thumbs up.
Have you tried the Smartick method? If so, let us know about your experience in the comments below.