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5 Common Math App Pitfalls — and How Elephant Learning Is Different
Aug 19

5 Common Math App Pitfalls — and How Elephant Learning Is Different

By Elephant Learning | Curriculum , Math Apps

As a parent with a child struggling in math or striving to get ahead, you have an overwhelming choice to make. Between thousands of online resources and hundreds of math apps, you may wonder what makes one resource different from another aside from the price point and the graphics.

If you’ve already tried a number of apps, you’ve probably noticed that a typical math app’s strategy is to throw math components into an online game, but this never gets to the root of the problem: If a child has math anxiety or is averse to doing mathematics, the game is not fooling them. If anything, it may be turning mathematics into work.

When we see statistics like 75% of high school students are not proficient in high school mathematics (and that is up from 66% in 2007!), it’s clear that while the number of applications on the market for mathematics has exploded, none of them are moving the needle. 

At Elephant Learning, we believe it is possible to make educational software that emphasizes education first and is also fun. It is an important difference. Our only goal is to ensure that children are empowered by mathematics

From our founding mission to the curriculum behind the games, here are five ways Elephant Learning is different from many popular math apps. 

1. We Are a Gamification of a Proven Curriculum

Elephant Learning started with the most effective mathematics activities as documented by early-age education researchers — scientists that have dedicated their lives to finding the most effective way to teach. We used these activities to create puzzle games for children.

Because we are starting with an activity that we know works, rather than figuring out how to mishmash math into a game that will be “entertaining,” we know that the outcome is going to be effective. This places the emphasis on learning. The rest of the tool is built around this.

2. Our Choices Are Research Oriented

Science says that if a child does activity A in order to do activity B, then activity A becomes work. 

In the case of having children do math in order to play games, this means that mathematics is becoming “work” to the child. That does not feel like empowerment. With every decision we make, we are painstakingly ensuring that the message we are sending to the student is the most empowering.  

That is also why we are creating coaching videos to help you use our tool every step of the way. The way we overcome math anxiety is by ensuring that children understand the concepts, and that we develop a healthy relationship with mathematics going forward. 

In fact, the research says doing mathematics at your level of understanding is fun, like a puzzle game, and it develops the problem-solving skills that children need everywhere in life.

3. We Treat It Like a Med

If you’ve ever read the “Four Hour Body” by Tim Ferriss, he talks about a med (medicine). With medicine, you want to take the required dosage; anything greater than the required dosage creates declining results. Ferriss’ example was tanning. If you tan for 15 minutes, it’s the optimal amount of time in the sun. Any more than 15 minutes and you run the risk of burning; any less and the results are not as optimal.

Every choice we make treats our system like a med. That is why we have daily playtime timers to limit usage so that students do not burn out. But more than that, that is also why we do go overboard on motivational techniques. 

People have studied the most addictive apps on the market and have books with formulas designed to make apps consume your time. That is not Elephant Learning’s goal — empowerment does not come through addiction. Our goal is to get children to use it 10 minutes per day, three days per week. If a student wants to do more, let them, but it is important to keep it within reason so that the student does not burn out on it. The child takes the “med”, they get the result and they apply it in their lives. 

Related Article: The Real Reason Math Curriculum is Failing Your Child

4. Progress Based on Reality 

For most students (everyone older than five), the Elephant Learning app experience starts with a placement exam or training phase. They train with the app’s algorithms, which determines their initial math comprehension. 

This is vital because you won’t be starting your child out at where they should be according to their grade or age. Instead, we’re starting with the curriculum that your child is actually ready to tackle, based on their comprehension. 

This ensures children feel empowered (because they’re not automatically greeted with math problems they’re bound to fail, as soon as they start using the app), they have fun doing math problems they’re capable of doing and the math doesn’t become annoying “work.” 

Meanwhile, other apps assume your child may know, for example, multiplication tables because they’re in third grade. Elephant Learning actually takes the time to find out where your child really is in their math comprehension and where their math gap actually started. The resulting experience for the child is a huge, empowering difference.

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5. Power to the Parents

Many math apps are parent-free zones or, at best, parents are an afterthought within the app. 

Elephant Learning knows that the best results come when the parent is involved in the child’s education. Every study shows outcomes for students are better when parents are involved. The truth is, when I started this company, my first child was on his way. I created this system as a tool to ensure that he receives the benefits of mathematics education and avoids the American educational pitfall. 

We live in a time when, increasingly, if you are not the person creating the automation, you are the person being replaced by it. Our reports detail exactly how we intend to teach each topic down to the milestone level with advice on how you can further learning with fun games outside of the system. This turns your child’s playtime in the system into a tool to succeed in playtime with you. We provide advice on how to work with the students on mistakes so that the pressure is always off. At any point in time, if your student is struggling, we are always happy to look at the data and advise. That is why Elephant Learning can guarantee results.

The math app you choose for your child’s learning matters. Apps that focus on games and graphics with math sprinkled throughout may end up turning those math problems into perceived work for your child (and can become addictive). Elephant Learning begins with a proven curriculum and scientific understanding of how children learn math. We then build games and puzzles around the curriculum, empowering students to truly grasp math concepts. Knowing that parental involvement is key to student success, we also ensure that you, the parent, are involved every step of the way. 

Case Study: A 5th Grader’s Journey with Elephant Learning
Aug 14

Case Study: A 5th Grader’s Journey with Elephant Learning

By Elephant Learning | Case Study

Fifth grade is a crucial time for children, especially in math class. Division, decimals, fractions, exponents and basic geometry — it can all be stressful for not only students, but parents, too. This is a fact that one of our Elephant Learning parents knew very well. 

Tears at Math Time

Nicole H. has a 10-year-old fifth-grader, Kaelyb, who, before using the Elephant Learning app, was not only failing math, but he was also becoming disruptive during his math classes. 

Things weren’t much better at home. According to Nicole, all of their after-school homework sessions were filled with frustrated looks, whining and excuses. For Kaelyb, his big excuse was always the same: He couldn’t remember how to do the problem-solving he’d been taught at school. 

Making Math Time Fun Again

Nicole came across an ad for the Elephant Learning app while scrolling through social media. Though she couldn’t find many reviews, she decided to give the app a try. 

Kaelyb had already been involved with tutors at his school, and Nicole had invested in a large dry erase board at home to make homework time more convenient.

Almost immediately, Nicole began seeing positive changes with Kaelyb, particularly when it came to how excited he was when it came to math time. Kaelyb was excited to see how the Elephant Learning app worked and they were both thrilled that he could easily log in and play all by himself; in fact, she says, there are so many games to choose from that he had a difficult time choosing the first games to play!

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Getting Ahead with Increased Confidence 

Now, Kaelyb is using the Elephant Learning app five days a week for as much as an hour per day, logging in first thing in the morning. He loves all the games and challenges himself to dedicate as much time as possible to the app, playing on it every day instead of just the recommended three times per week.

Nicole loves the app because, while Kaelyb is having a fun time playing games and learning math concepts, she’s receiving charts that give her a good indication of his struggle areas so she can then personally work with him on those concepts. 

The family has been using the app for about a month now. At Kaelyb’s first assessment, the app indicated what Nicole already knew — that he performed below grade level when it came to math. But, within the month they’ve been using the app regularly, Kaelyb advanced so much that he’s now understanding math concepts beyond his grade level. 

Nicole is excited for Kaelyb to return to school equipped with the new skills he’s learned and his increased confidence when it comes to solving math problems. 

Why Your Child Is Behind in Math (Yes, Even Your Child)
Aug 08

Why Your Child Is Behind in Math (Yes, Even Your Child)

By Elephant Learning | Curriculum

The majority of kids are behind in math. Even when they’re keeping pace with their peers, they likely aren’t excelling. Why is this, how can it be prevented and what can we do to reverse the damage if it’s already in place?

Math Deficiencies Start in Kindergarten

Statistics say that four out of five students enter kindergarten unprepared for the kindergarten curriculum. Kindergarten math curriculum starts at counting to 20, so students entering kindergarten need to know how to count to 10. Does that mean 80% of students don’t know how to count to 10?

Yes. And it’s all because what the school means by counting to 10 and what parents mean by counting to 10 is different. 

For parents, if their child can verbally recite the numbers one through 10, then the child knows how to count to 10. 

For the school, counting to 10 means that the child can pick 10 items out of a pile and give them to you when you ask for 10 — no more, no less. They have a number in their head while counting and they know when to stop and what exactly 10 means in a real-life situation. 

If a child enters kindergarten knowing how to count to 10 by the school’s definition, they tend to do fairly well within our education system. Unfortunately, only the top 20% of income earners are preparing their children for kindergarten in this way, mainly because they can afford to send their child to preschool, where children learn how to count to 10 by this definition. 

Preschool and Kindergarten Set the Tone for the Rest of Your Child’s Life

This early math readiness is significant because the research also shows that, at the preschool level, children that do more math are better readers, writers and problem solvers. They have better grammar and better reading comprehension.

Another study showed that preschool math scores are a better predictor of third-grade reading scores than preschool reading scores, meaning the more math children do, the better they are at reading down the road. 

One other study showed that preschool math scores predict fifth-grade overall scores, not just fifth-grade math scores. 

There are several reasons for this. 

Math is Mental Gymnastics

Math tends to be like mental gymnastics: It exercises your mind. Children who are doing more math are practicing mental skills more often; just like you might practice a simple skill like chewing gum and walking at the same time, children can practice counting while holding a number in their head. 

Math Anxiety Seeps into Your Child’s Entire Education

Once there’s a gap in your child’s math understanding, math anxiety builds due to that gap. If your child doesn’t understand the teacher during a math lesson, they just assume they’re not good at the subject. 

Our society tells them it’s okay if they are just “not a numbers person.” Once it is okay to not be good at one subject, it makes it easy to have excuses to be deficient in other subjects, too.

Related: Answers to Your Top Questions About Math Anxiety

Your Child’s Experience After Kindergarten

Because math concepts build on top of each other, if your child doesn’t understand math during their first year, they’re not going to understand things later on.

Maybe they didn’t really understand counting, but now they’re on to addition and subtraction using memorization as a technique to pass. Once they get to multiplication, the children that were great at memorization look like they are doing well, but it is like if you entered a third-year biochem class after missing the first two years; everyone sounds like they’re speaking English, but you would not know what they’re talking about. 

Why is it that parents aren’t seeing this? Because children who rely on memorization don’t appear to have any issue with math. 

If a parent asks their child what 4×5 is and the child quickly answers with 20, the parent can check that off their mental list. There doesn’t appear to be any need to dig any deeper.

But, if you put up four groups of five objects and the child has to count all the objects to know there are 20 items there, rather than recognizing that four groups of five equal 20, then you see that there is a problem. 

Take yourself back to that spot. You’re that third-grade student who’s not understanding anything that’s going on. What are you going to do? You’re going to use the strategy that you know will get you to the next level and everyone will help you with that strategy, because everyone — parents, teachers — are motivated to help you pass your test. 

What happens to students when they get to middle school, where individualized resources are more scarce and memorization maybe doesn’t work as well as it did when students are learning multiplication tables?

When students get to the middle school level, this is where all the statistics discussed above catch up with them. Once they get into algebra, if they don’t understand the concept, it’s game over. There’s no way to memorize algebra. The best they can do is memorize mnemonics, but as soon as the equations become more complex, which happens fairly quickly, these strategies no longer work.

Related: The Real Reason Math Curriculum is Failing Your Child

What Happens After High School?

The large majority of children who can’t afford to go to preschool ends up creating a pipeline of kids that aren’t well-versed in basic math concepts and, later down the road, in more advanced math concepts. 

Seventy-five percent of high school students are not proficient in high school math. That’s the end result of the entire chain. And this is happening in a society that’s more computer-driven than ever. These children need to understand math in order to get into fields with higher-paying jobs. 

We tell children they can grow up to be anything they want, but to be honest, it’s over at kindergarten. Anything we can do to change that could empower people at an unimaginable scale. 

What do you need to know in order to just be good at, say, computer programming? It’s algebra, logic and problem-solving. 

When we say that 75% of students have a deficiency in high school, think about the impact it would have if you opened up that 75% of the population to the jobs they were promised, the jobs they want. What if we were able to graduate more engineers and scientists, and the business people and politicians of tomorrow could actually understand what they were saying?

What sort of impact would that have on our society or this planet?

Parental Guidance Required

Parents have to take this into their own hands. When parents become involved with their child’s education, the outcomes for the student is always better. Fortunately, there are a lot of tools out there to help you take control of your child’s mathematics education. 

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Elephant Learning accurately tests and evaluates kids at different grade levels to see if they truly get what they should be learning. It then adjusts what they’re learning to ensure they understand math conceptually right from the start. 

The app provides educational games for the kids while also providing parents with reports and information on how the app is actually teaching a concept. Parents will find games to play with their child outside of the app that further support learning. 

We break it down for you, telling you how to help your child along every step of the way and showing you how to identify your child’s misunderstandings simply. 

For instance, rather than correcting them or showing them how to do the math problem correctly, ask them why they think they’re correct; you’re going to see what they misunderstand nearly immediately and be able to give them a hint on how to overcome it.

This way, Elephant Learning is empowering to the student, but it’s also empowering to the parent. You no longer have to be afraid to take your child’s math education into your own hands.

Answers to Your Top Questions About Math Anxiety
Jul 23

Answers to Your Top Questions About Math Anxiety

By Elephant Learning | Curriculum

When I was young, every summer, my mother would sit me and my sister down to learn the math concepts for the upcoming school year. Math time at our house wasn’t always a calm time. There were definitely some tears, and, I’m sure, it was like pulling teeth for my mother. 

Beyond us not really wanting to do math during summer vacation, there was also a fear of getting these new math concepts and problems wrong — in other words, math anxiety.

The next thing I know, I’m in fourth grade and I didn’t get into the advanced math class by one point and I was fighting to get in. My math anxiety drove that competitiveness; I couldn’t, for whatever reason, not get into the class. I pushed to get ahead of my peers, learning the advanced math concepts even when I couldn’t make it into the advanced math classes in middle school. 

I ended up with a computer science major, a math major and a minor in philosophy, but I still had that experience with math anxiety. I didn’t realize what it was, though, until it was explained to me. 

From there, I could see how it affected me and how it affects others every day. Over the last two years, I’ve examined math anxiety, particularly how it impacts children’s understanding of basic math concepts. When used correctly, the Elephant Learning app — along with parental involvement — can effectively help your child overcome their math anxiety. 

Do you think your child may deal with math anxiety? I get many questions about the causes, symptoms and solutions to math anxiety. Read on for some of my answers. 

How Can I Tell If My Child Has Math Anxiety?

The first step in addressing math anxiety is to recognize what it looks like in the first place.

When you and your child sit down to do their math homework at night, do they experience any of the following?

  • Tantrums and tears
  • Frustration
  • Fear and dread

Are they coming home with poor test grades? When your child does get a math problem right, does it seem like they’re just guessing or reciting an answer?

Another good indicator of your child’s level of math anxiety is how they deal with a word problem. If you ask them a word problem and they don’t understand the question, this may be an indicator of math anxiety. 

Try this exercise: Grab a handful of the LEGOs that have four dots on top. Ask your child to give you five of those blocks and tell you how many dots there are in all. If your child counts to get the answer, do not worry; let them come up with the answer. 

Ask them next: “What is 4 times 5?” This may help them connect the concept of multiplication to the memorized times tables. However, if you try any exercise like this and find your student counting, it typically indicates they have a gap in understanding the concepts and would be prone to developing math anxiety.

Questions like the above can help you determine if your child has a gap in understanding. Math Matters has a quiz at different student levels to help determine if your child has any gaps in understanding. Take the  Math Matters assessment to identify your child’s current math level. 

How Can I Help My Child Combat Math Anxiety?

Help your child combat math anxiety by filling in the gap in understanding. Start giving your child math experiences by incorporating concepts into real-world situations. This will increase his or her confidence when they approach new, harder concepts. 

This is exactly what Elephant Learning does. The entire system was built to remove math anxiety and facilitate the learning of mathematics. The app’s games are educational on their own, but if your child gets stuck, the app provides you with a series of questions to ask, which almost always gets your child over their hurdle. 

Once you’ve filled the gap in understanding, the narrative of “I’m not good at math” will no longer reflect reality, and you may find increased confidence. It is important to understand the story and help children understand that it is not reality. How Do I Prevent My Child From Having Math Anxiety in the Future? 

There are a few things you can do to keep math anxiety at bay in the future.

  1. Keep math fun. Make it a game and always be playful around math. 
  2. Teach at their level. When you’re talking over your child’s head, they can start to feel anxious again.
  3. Be mature about your own possible math anxiety. When you start to get burnt out, it’s okay to step back and take a break.

The Elephant Learning app does this, too. It explains how it’s teaching the subject and why, then breaks the topic down further into milestones. Parents can find activities to do with their child outside of the system that teach the same concepts, so the child receives more exposure to a concept to learn it faster. 

Final Facts About Math Anxiety

Make no mistake. Math anxiety can and does affect the course of your life. The wife of a friend said to me, “I wanted to get a degree in physics, but it was all differential equations, so I became an English major.”

When she was a child, that’s what she wanted to do; she wanted to be a physicist, but she gave that up because of math anxiety.  

The reality is, there’s no such thing as a “not a math person.” Whether it’s you or your child, those who aren’t confident with mathematics are typically individuals who have math anxiety. 

Regardless of how much math anxiety exists in your household, remember: there is a solution.

The Real Reason Math Curriculum is Failing Your Child
Jul 15

The Real Reason Math Curriculum is Failing Your Child

By Elephant Learning | Curriculum

Does your child enjoy math class? When you see them doing their math homework, does it feel like they don’t really get the concepts? Do they appear to blindly apply strategies they’ve been taught in class to solve their homework problems? 

In the classroom, many children are unable to develop a solid math foundation due to the typical way math is taught. The good news is, you can remedy this issue at home by simply looking at math instruction through a new lens — so that your child goes into the classroom prepared to take on mathematical challenges.

Instruction vs. Experience

Teachers are accustomed to teaching mathematics through instruction. It’s not that this strategy is incorrect; it’s simply the most practical strategy to employ when standing in front of a classroom full of students. 

When a student doesn’t get a math concept, a teacher may then instruct the students on ‘how’ to solve a problem with a step-by-step procedure to memorize and use. 

The issue with this is, strategies are better discovered than memorized. If your child simply memorizes a strategy, can you be sure they truly understand the concept and language, even if they can get the right answer?

Think of it this way: You can’t really instruct a child on what the color red is. You can show a child red objects and you can label them as red, but you can’t necessarily tell them what red is. Even if you read the definition of “red” in the dictionary, your child still won’t understand what red is without seeing and experiencing the color for themselves.

In the same way, how do you describe addition to a child? “5+4” means “Give me five objects; give me four more objects; now how many do I have?” If a student has not had the experience of this simple activity, the only thing that can be done, besides going back to ensure the fundamentals are understood, is to memorize the answers.

After all, there is a test coming up!

Imagine walking into a third-year lecture in organic biochemistry (or, if you are a biochemist, a third-year lecture in graduate mathematics). The lecture is full of jargon. One university student I know described it as “It sounds like they are speaking English, but I have no idea what they are saying!” 

This is what three out of four elementary students experience in math class. Children are being tested on the materials they don’t understand. Memorization is the only strategy that appears to work!

Eventually, this process will fail. If the prior math concepts were not understood, memorization as a strategy for passing homework and tests no longer works when they get into more advanced mathematics curriculum such as algebra.

For many parents, they never understand that this — the mere memorization of procedures to solve problems without any understanding to back it up — is what’s happening with their child. There is no idea of what their child may be going through in the classroom. 

Children learn math through logic and reasoning. Just like with the colors, the best way to have children understand math is by giving a child mathematical experiences at his or her level and then placing the language around it. 

By doing this, your child discovers strategies and procedures for solving math problems, rather than just memorizing some answers. This is how they build intuition and problem-solving skills.  

Setting Your Child Up for Success

We can’t blame this issue entirely on the school system and teachers. Research shows if children come into kindergarten understanding mathematical concepts, then the U.S. school system produces great students. 

That’s where working with your child at home gives them a huge advantage. In nearly every study on education, outcomes are vastly improved when parents are involved in the learning process. 

Being able to effectively teach my child mathematics at home is the reason I created the Elephant Learning platform. Not only does it simultaneously teach and evaluate, but based on the evaluations, we provide valuable feedback to parents on how to make further progress outside of the app with fun activities such as board games. 

Helping your child understand math concepts at home is not about instruction or showing them how to solve problems. For example, the Elephant Learning app does not “instruct.” We define, and we give students math experiences that help them comprehend math concepts.

It goes back to the concept of teaching “red”. It’s giving the child the experiences of “red” versus giving them a definition of “red” that helps them truly understand what the color is and how to recognize it. The same can be said for math. 

When parents use Elephant Learning as directed, we receive testimonials from parents raving about how their children have become more confident. They do better on tests and actually enjoying math class because they finally understand the teacher’s instructions. 

Without this kind of support, children with math anxiety, unfortunately, become adults with math anxiety.