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(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Tooele Junior High School students learning math with the help of software that is being piloted through Utah's new STEM Action Center, Tuesday January 28, 2014 in Tooele.
Utah makes an $8.5 million bet on tech for math
Math » More than 5,500 students assessed before, during and after they used dozens of learning programs.
First Published Jan 30 2014 10:08 am • Last Updated Jan 30 2014 10:32 pm

Seventh-grader Michael Hernandez is loving the new ThinkThroughMath software that his math teacher in Logan uses once a week to supplement her math lessons.

Hernandez likes how it displays formulas and fills gaps in his knowledge, and he especially thrives on the competition built into the program. For a brief time last fall, the 13-year-old was in second place behind a buddy among all seventh-graders using ThinkThroughMath in Utah.

At a glance

State buying software

Ten software companies will get pieces of the $8.5 million that the 2013 Legislature designated for new math software in Utah’s middle and high schools. The companies were picked by committees of the new STEM Action Center after a pilot project in the fall. Here are the companies, listed with their software names (if different). Those with asterisks were piloted; others were picked because they’ve been successful in other states.

For Sixth-Eighth Grades:

Curriculum Associates (i-Ready)

*Mind Research Inst. (ST Math)

*ALEKS

Explore Learning (Reflex)

Compass Learning (Odyssey)

*ThinkThroughMath

Hot Math (Catchup Math)

For Ninth through 12th Grades:

Carnegie (Cognitive Tutor)

ALEKS

Pearson (MathXL for School)

*The NROC Project (EdReady)

Hot Math (Catchup Math)

More money for STEM

The 2014 Legislature will be asked to put more money into educating Utah’s students in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects.

Gov. Gary Herbert’s budget requests $3 million more for the STEM Action Center, created last year as part of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.

Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George, proposes in SB107 to give school districts $5 million to buy interactive, Web-based programs to teach math in kindergarten through sixth grade.

Urquhart also has said he wants to change math classes in high schools so that more students are ready for college math.

His bill is not yet written, but Urquhart says one goal is to give teenagers an incentive to complete Math 1050 — College Algebra — before they graduate high school. That could take the form of scholarships to Utah institutions of higher education.

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But ask Hernandez if his success in math this year is due to the software, piloted through Utah’s new STEM Action Center, or his teacher at Bear River Charter School, and he pauses.

It’s not either-or.

"I have a really good teacher. She stays after school for anything I have trouble with," he says. "But ThinkThroughMath has a bit to do with it, too."

It’s both.

That’s the kind of anecdotal evidence for the software’s usefulness that is flowing into the center, based in the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, after a two-month pilot project.

More than 5,500 students in 40 schools were assessed before, during and after using one of a dozen software programs and against control groups who did not use any software. (Most of the schools are still using the technology, though the formal pilot is over).

The point was to identify — and then deploy — new software that can help schools improve their middle- and high-school math scores, using $8.5 million budgeted by the Legislature last year.

Data from the pilot are expected out this month from researchers at Utah State University and more complete data after end-of-year tests.


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But even without the final data, committees of educators working with the STEM Center in December chose seven software programs that will be offered next year, via grants, for sixth through eighth grades and five for high schools.

The 40 pilot schools will have first dibs on the software, which will be demonstrated in the spring during four "road shows" around the state, says Meredith Mannebach, program manager for the center. Other schools also will be able to apply.

The goal is to reach 25 percent of the state’s students in grades six through 12 with new math software next year, says Tami Goetz, the former state science adviser who is taking a leave of absence from Utah Valley University to serve as the STEM center’s director.

The STEM Center, placed in the state’s economic development arm because legislators wanted business to play a role in educating tomorrow’s workforce, is zeroing in first on math because it’s fundamental and because so many Utah students graduate high school unprepared for college math.

Gov. Gary Herbert is seeking $3 million more for the STEM Action Center in next year’s budget.

Math, says Goetz, "is the gorilla in the room."

‘Students are moving ahead’ » Seventy seventh- and eighth-graders sit in front of Internet-connected computers at Tooele Junior High School, each working at his or her own pace.

One eighth-grader adds and subtracts negative fractions with unlike denominators. When she gets a wrong answer, the program shows where she went wrong and demonstrates the right way to solve the problem.

The next student is using ST Math, a program Tooele Junior High has found especially useful for English-language learners, for those who need remedial math or have trouble reading. It uses only pictures and numbers, no words.

Students essentially play math games, solving addition, subtraction and fraction problems that are presented in pictures, such as flowers or peanuts. When they succeed, Jiji the penguin walks across the screen.

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