By Valerie Schuetta, M. Ed.
I am a first-grade teacher. Each year, right before school begins, there is a fire inside of me that begins to slowly burn, and I can’t wait to start the school year. I guess I am always in “teacher mode”, even during the summer. I enjoy having time off to relax, but every day I find myself collecting new materials, including books, science materials, ideas, activities, virtually anything and everything that will excite and enhance my teaching, and reminds me of why I wanted to become a teacher in the first place. Sometimes it feels like a treasure hunt or Christmas every day! You can probably tell already how much I love my profession.
I would like to tell you about my latest find. It is an app called Elephant Learning. The developers of Elephant Learning, Dr. Alvaro Arias, PhD, and a professor of Mathematics at the University of Denver, and Dr. Aditya Nagrath, a mathematician and computer scientist, have combined their extensive knowledge and research to form this phenomenal company. It is obvious they have a deep understanding of the why, when, and how children have the best chance of learning math. They tout their program as one that teaches concepts, not procedures. They really hit the “nail on the head” with this statement. Yes, we can teach procedures.
Will my students remember them? Chances are, not for very long. I like to think that the concepts taught with the Elephant Learning Program are more like experiences. For example, each November, before we dispose of our classroom pumpkin, my students and I put the seeds in groups of ten, and then we count them. They make predictions. Yes, they are learning, but this is an experience they will not soon forget! When a child experiences concepts, they are less likely to forget them. These experiences will be remembered and most definitely be deposited in their background knowledge. This will be achieved with the Elephant Learning Program.
Elephant Learning is a program that works for children from ages 3 through 11. You may be thinking that age 3 is too young, but this is actually a perfect age to start teaching math. For developing children, math is at the root of their learning if taught in the way that they learn best or suits their individual learning style. It becomes natural and should become part of their every day life. Elephant Learning achieves this in as little as 30 minutes a week, or 10 minutes a day, 3 days a week.
When your child first opens the program, s/he can choose from a variety of beautifully illustrated applications. One of my students’ favorites is the Whale Spotting application. As soon as the app is clicked, the program begins. Elephant Learning is designed to deliver an assessment to your students, based on their age. The left side of the screen will show what concept the student is working on and what the objective is. For example, this could include adding and subtracting to 10 and understanding the teens, or decomposing numbers. The actual equation will appear written at the top of the screen, and is also read to the student by an engaging voice. For example, “I have 3 whales. (3 cute little whales that are swimming, appear in an ocean setting) I need 6 in total. How many more do I need?” On the right side of the screen, the student may click up or down to select the correct answer, and then click “OK”. If the student is wrong, a voice will gently tell them they are incorrect and they will get another chance to correct their answer. If they are correct, a voice tells them, “Bravo!” and the correct equation is shown.
In a different skill, the student is asked to show 15 whales. On the right side of the screen, they have the choice to click and drag 1 whale at a time, a group of 5 whales, or a group of ten whales. It’s amazing to watch which students will click one at a time, 3 groups of 5 whales, or 1 group of ten whales and a group of 5. This really gives me a clear understanding of the conceptual knowledge of my students.
I love the fact that the program also teaches crucial math vocabulary to my students, such as altogether, take away, and how many more. This is so important for children to become successful math learners! My students will be able to learn math in a variety of modalities, including seeing the equation, manipulating objects, and hearing immediate feedback. All of this is so important for differentiation and covering their learning styles!
As a first grade teacher in a public school, I am required to follow the Common Core Standards. Elephant Math absolutely fits in with our curriculum. It meets all the requirements for Common Core. This program has all the necessary components to meet the Common Core Criteria. It is abstract, meaning the student can see the problem they are working on. Elephant Math is concrete, allowing the children to manipulate the objects needed to complete each equation. It is also pictorial, with astonishing graphics that are guaranteed to engage your child! It affords all the concepts I am required to teach and help my students achieve their test score goals. This includes adding, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions and more. I know that my students need to be proficient in these areas to reach their goals on our standardized benchmark tests. I also know that Elephant Learning will keep them climbing up the ladder of vertical alignment so that they are ready for me to send them off to the next grade level.
I love the fact that I can integrate the Elephant Learning application into my classroom set of Ipads. My set of Ipads are an integral part of my classroom math block, which is 90 minutes long. After I teach and model my math lesson, my students and I do the concept together, and then they try it on their own. After a quick assessment, I then make instructional decisions about who needs more “one on one” with me in a small group setting. Typically, this is about 5 or 6 students. I am excited that I can bring these students to my small group table, work on the concept, and then turn them loose with the Elephant Learning app on an Ipad, or one of my classroom computers. My students that are already proficient or near proficiency, can also be working on Elephant Learning while I am working with my small group. In this way, no valuable learning time will be lost!
Elephant Learning is an extremely impressive, highly researched-based program. It is quite obvious the developers really care about all children learning, not just at the elementary level, but into their college years. They have the research to back it up. They firmly believe that if children learn math early, their learning will be enhanced in all content areas, including reading and science. They will become amazing problem solvers. Elephant Learning is an effective way, if not the best way, for children to learn math.
This program is very affordable. Tuition is only $35.00 per month, which includes 3 students. I cannot wait to submit a proposal to my principal to purchase this program for my classroom. I am hoping the whole first grade team will be able to participate, if not the whole school.
Elephant Learning offers scholarships, but what really impressed me was the fact that the company will give a free app to an underprivileged family for every app that is purchased. The developers really believe that poverty-stricken children are at least 3 years behind their peers in math knowledge. I can attest to this fact. As a teacher in a high-poverty area, I work with many lower income families, so you can see how huge this is to me, and what a wonderful resource it will be to my students and their families.
Elephant Learning makes learning math enjoyable, engaging, and fun for children. They will not only learn, but will love to learn math. Young children are better at learning math than we previously thought. They are naturals, we just have to let them do what they do best. As a teacher, I like that I do not have to search for the right verbiage to hold the attention of all my students. Elephant Learning does it for me. I know that math coaches are always available to give myself or parents ideas for activities to relate math to real life experiences. I can also be confident that my students will learn one year of math in as little as 3 months. How exciting to know that any children who come to my classroom behind in math will quickly advance forward!
I know that an elephant is a mammal that supposedly never forgets! I can only surmise that the developers of this marvelous program came up with its name knowing that my students will remember forever the wonderful way they experienced learning math with Elephant Learning! V.S.