About Anthony Lawson

I earned my masters degree from George Mason University in Educational Leadership before leaving the classroom to become an instructional coach and eventually an Assistant Principal in Washington, DC. It is there where I forged my philosophy of education from my various experiences teaching and leading and transformed my school into one of the highest performing schools in the district . I am now excited to call Colorado my new home

There are many mathematical software programs available to schools and students. I have been lucky enough this year to initiate some action research in my classrooms of two different software programs: First in Math and Reflex Math.
             First in Math (www.firstinmath.com) was developed by Robert Sun, an entrepreneur born in Shanghai and moved to Philadelphia with his family when he was 9. Many people may be somewhat familiar with Challenge 24, a sub-game of First in Math; however, there are many more games and fact fluency tools available once the full program is purchased. These include a plethora of mathematical problem solving games up to the Algebra level.
What I really like about First in Math is the ranking systems that are updated daily on the site. They offer rankings by student, team, and school at the school level, state level, and national level. This creates a fun and friendly competition among members of a team, teams across the schools, and schools across their division or state. There are also incentives that are free and incentives that can be purchased. For example, as student receive “stickers” (points) by completing various tasks; the teacher can print off certificates for students as they reach various milestones. For purchase are items such as gold, silver, and bronze medals that can be given at award ceremonies or other opportune times. You can also purchase the large trophy that I personally rotate each quarter to the team with the highest average sticker count per student.
There are also some areas that I personally do not like about First in Math. It is difficult to really track a student’s progress if you want to know their fact fluency. You can see an overall chart of facts they have mastered, but it does not print well and the pre/post/current assessment tab is confusing. I would also like the certificate incentives to include the student’s name already printed on it. It is cumbersome to take the time to write all your students names down when you are trying to keep up with everyone’s milestones. I would also like to be able to print off more statistical tracking data on individual students. In the world of data that we live in, it would be nice to know where a student started and how much they have grown. It is difficult to track student growth with this program.
The other program I am using with a separate math block is Reflex Math through Explore Learning (www.reflexmath.com). This program focuses solely on fact fluency. It includes addition/subtraction (0-10), multiplication/division (0-10) as well as multiplication/division (0-12). You can individualize this to each of your students. The students have their own avatar that they can change as they earn various milestones which also opens up new games to play. What I like best about Reflex Math is what First in Math lacks. With Reflex Math I am able to print off amazing statistical growth data on individual students as well as whole class growth. This can be in a histogram, line graph, or pie chart. I can see what specific facts a student is struggling with and print these off to send home as homework as well. Furthermore, as various milestones are reached, the program lets me know. When I print off the certificates, the student’s name is already included, therefore minimizing the extra work for me!
However, what I like about First in Math is what Reflex Math lacks. Once a student becomes 100% fluent in their facts with Reflex Math, they are done. There are no other games to play or other skills to work on – it is simply a fact fluency program. With that said, it is one of the best, if not the best fact fluency programs I have used. There also is not a ranking system that students can see, so the friendly competition to improve is something the teacher would need to create in the classroom. Also, besides the certificates that can be printed, there are no other incentives to give to the students.
So, when comparing and contrasting which is the better program to use, you have to really think about the needs of your students. Reflex Math is great for students struggling with basic fact fluency while First in Math may be more appropriate for your older students as they investigate number sense and concepts. At the very least, the Challenge 24 game offered by First in Math comes in various levels that our younger students can also be successful in utilizing.
Have you used either of these programs? Which one do you prefer? I would also love to hear about any other computer based programs out there for students – specifically great ones that track student data and may also be iPad friendly.

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