Midland Elementary rules the nation in work-completion percentage for ST MathMidland Elementary Principal Jeremy Cramer has a goatee. It recently became pink. He also has hair on his head. On May 21, it was shaped like a mohawk, also pink.
These are not style trends he is hoping to set.
They are motivational tools he used this spring to inspire his roughly 170 grade K- 5 students to achieve the highest possible syllabus completion rate in ST Math. He told them he would dye his goatee if that number was the best of any schools in District 11. Then he pledged to give himself a mohawk if it was the best in the nation.
Gathered in the gym of the 125-year-old Westside school May 21 (the last day of school), the students cheered happily when Cramer walked in wearing a mohawk.
They also cheered (possibly louder) at hearing that as a reward they would all get free snow-cones after lunch.
With a schoolwide completion rate of 94 percent, Midland's progress tied with that of another school in Texas for the top spot.
No award (monetary or otherwise) accompanies the honor, but Cramer believes the important aspect is students seeing the possibilities of what they can accomplish. “It's one of the things we talk about a lot at school,” he said in an interview later with the Westside Pioneer. Although over 75 percent of Midland's students are on free and reduced lunches (based on family income), “we want them to believe they can go on to be successful, if they're willing to put the work in. We're trying to get them to internalize that.”
Developed by a national company called the MIND Research Institute, ST Math is a game-based software program for grades K-12 that has been offered in District 11 for the past three years to augment the regular math curriculum. (ST stands for “spatial-temporal.”) Assigned to ST Math for 90 minutes a week, Midland's students proceed at their own pace, logging in with their personal user IDs and passwords.
“It's an excellent program,” Cramer said. “The kids really get engaged in it.” The ST Math problems are geared for different grades, and students are informed of their individual progress as they go.
According to mindresearch.net, ST Math “is designed to boost math comprehension and proficiency through visual learning. Integrating with classroom instruction, ST Math incorporates the latest research in learning and the brain and promotes mastery-based learning and mathematical understanding.”
Midland's ST Math work had been sixth best in the district in 2012-13. For 2013-14, Cramer and his classroom teachers decided to set a higher goal: “Let's see if we can be first.”
He credited his teachers for nurturing student excitement about the quest. ST Math publishes the ongoing progress for all schools, and “we kept track all year, how we compared,” Cramer said. Over time, it got to be a daily revelation where Midland stood. Realizing they had a chance to win - first the district and then the country - students took to working after school, on their own, to raise their personal numbers as close to 100 percent as they could, Cramer said.
Midland's overall percentage also reflects late-year transfers from out of the district who started at zero and had no chance of getting anywhere near 100. But Cramer said he was impressed at how many of them “invested a lot of time” in catching up, so their scores would not drag down the school's by any more than they had to.
Cramer sees the ST Math goal-setting as a good fit with the school's 12 “IB attitudes.” One that particularly applies, he believes, is commitment, coupled with self-discipline and responsibility. Different IB attitudes are emphasized each month. As it happened, commitment was on the list for April. That was also the month when the ST Math competition was coming into sharper focus. “It was a way to tie IB in with something real that the kids were involved with,” Cramer said.
Westside Pioneer article