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Counting sheep: Raise math scores at bedtime

A story at bedtime. A lullaby to help you fall asleep. It's an idea we have all grown up with, but one forward-thinking mom would like you to consider a new way of getting your little one to calm down for the night: with a math problem. (AP Photo/file)

A story at bedtime. A lullaby to help you fall
asleep. It’s an idea we have all grown up with, but one
forward-thinking mom would like you to consider a new way
of getting your little one to calm down for the night:
with a math problem.

“Math just doesn’t have a great image in our
country. Kids have bad experiences with math when they’re
young, and they grow up into adults who don’t really like
it, and then that gets passed on to their kids,” says
Laura Overdeck.

Overdeck is a mother of three and the creator of
the free website bedtimemathproblem.org. The idea started
shortly after she had her first daughter.

“We all know that we should read to our kids at
night, but what about math? Math is not on equal footing.
We noticed this kind of early on when we had our first
child.”

As she added kids to her clan, Overdeck started
creating stories so that each child could figure out a
different part of the problem. Other parents were so
excited about the idea, they convinced Overdeck to start
her non-profit website where you can get a different
problem to share with your kids every night as you tuck
them in.

Overdeck says one of her favorites is about the
zipline her kids have been dying to build out the window,
across the street and into the neighbor’s pool.

“For the little one it was, well, if you start
seven feet off the floor at one end of your room and you
end three feet off the floor at the other end, how many
feet did you drop? For the older kids it was things like,
if it goes 17 feet out the window to the tree and then 27
feet to the pool, how many feet long is the zipline?”

Using technology to get kids excited about school
is an idea that’s been percolating for quite a while now,
but we are starting to see some creative ways to translate
it into real achievement in the classroom.

Another example is the Bellevue-based company
Dreambox. They started six years ago by creating an
innovative program that can differentiate instruction and
adapt to each child along the way. Director of Product
Marketing Casey Davidson says the great thing about using
technology is it can track a student’s every decision.

“How much time did they take? How many hints did
they need? How many adjustments did they make beforehand?
And not only did they get it wrong or right, what strategy
did they use?”

Dreambox is being used in schools and homes across
the country. Locally, you can find the program in the
Highline District in Burien, the Lake Washington School
District, Mercer Island, Bellevue and 39 schools in the
Seattle School District.

They started with just two schools in Seattle,
Queen Anne and West Seattle Elementary. They were schools
on very different ends of the spectrum. West Seattle was
struggling.

“It hadn’t made adequate yearly progress for the
previous four years, and it was actually deemed one of the
lowest five percent of schools in the nation,” says
Davidson.

So they came up with a plan that included
technology. West Seattle contracted with Dreambox and
worked with their local libraries to make sure all kids
could have access to the learning program whether they
were at school or not.

Within one year, they were able to double the
number of students meeting standards in math.

“They actually found that it really engaged
students who typically were very hesitant to raise their
hands in the classroom. They have a lot of English
language learners in the school, and also a high
percentage of special education students and students in
need of intervention,” says Davidson.

She says teachers found Dreambox was a safe place
where kids could explore their math skills, and improve
them, without feeling bad about the areas in which they
might have been behind.

Queen Anne, on the other hand, had a high number
of excelling students. Dreambox allowed those students to
jump ahead as soon as they were ready.

The Seattle School District was so impressed, they
added the program at 37 new schools the very next year.

“It doesn’t matter if they’re a boy or a girl, or
fluent in English or learning English, or active and
really social, or really quiet in class, the program
doesn’t care,” Davidson says.

Dreambox currently is for kindergarten through
fifth grades, but they are looking to possibly expand it
to higher grade levels and possibly even other subjects.

You can test drive Dreambox at their website.

To try a math problem at bedtime, go to bedtimemathproblem.org.

About the Author

Kim Shepard

Kim Shepard is a news anchor and reporter for KIRO Radio and the office optimist. She's energetic, quick to laugh and has a positive outlook on life.

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