Thinking It Through

Lou Piconi reveals a system that makes math sense — and dollars for charity.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

Lou Piconi of ThinkThroughMathWhere can you learn, play and donate to charity all at once? The answer lies in this Pittsburgh-based online supplemental math program, Think Through Math (TTM). Co-founded by Lou Piconi (pictured left), who serves as SVEP Strategic Activities, it was founded in 2002 by technologists and teachers as Apangea, and grounded in research that came out of the U.S. Air Force. The program originally combined online support for students in grades 6-8 with access to live math teachers. A decade later, in April 2012, and in line with the new Common Core State Standards and rigorous new assessments, Apangea re-launched as Think Through Math. TTM continues to provide Web-based math instruction and instant access to live math teachers but also includes expanded content for students from grades 3 through Algebra 1; rigorous Common Core instruction and practice; next-gen assessment formats, English and Spanish support; access to live teachers, motivational tools using game mechanics, avatars, badges and multi-state contests and more. Within one year of its launch, Think Through Math grew to support more than two million students in 41 states. With its unique, altruistic-oriented motivational system, TTM students made donations to two charities every minute on a typical school day during the 2012-2013 school year. In late spring 2013, students donated more than $22,000 to Red Cross relief efforts in Texas and Oklahoma.

Victor: What’s the reasoning behind the name?

TTM logoLou: The goal of Think Through Math is to develop the problem-solving and thinking skills of every student as they do math. With so much anxiety around math, it also teaches students that math is a system that makes sense and, most of all that they can succeed.

Victor: What is TTM? Who is it for? What are the primary benefits?

Lou: Think Through Math is currently designed for all students in grades 3 through Algebra I. Because TTM is adaptive, it develops individualized learning pathways that target the unique instructional needs of each student including:

  • Students who are working at grade-level (PRACTICE) or above (ENRICHMENT);
  • Students who are working a year or two or more below grade-level (INTERVENTION);
  • Students who find traditional math programs boring;
  • Students who lack math confidence;
  • English language learners;
  • Special Education students;
  • Regular Education students; and
  • High School students at risk of dropping out.

At its heart, TTM is designed to build confidence and competence in mathematics. We believe TTM sets a new standard of differentiation by supporting students with personalized learning pathways and instant access to live, certified teachers. Working together, these powerful features have a big impact on student math achievement, behavior and self-esteem.

  • Students receive rigorous instruction that systematically builds on the skills they have mastered and provides  support for those they have not mastered–all within the same engaging online environment.
  • Because the program includes a wide span of Common Core-aligned content that dips below grade 3-level (precursor lessons from grades 1-2), any student can receive explicit instruction to rebuild math foundations and correct misconceptions.
  • Students can work independently on the system during school hours, after school, and at home on weekends and holidays.
  • Students always have access to immediate corrective feedback and, as a safety net, have more than 90 hours of access to live, certified math teachers.
  • Students receive instruction in a low-risk, supportive environment that does not outwardly identify them as needing additional assistance.
  • As students work in the system, they not only improve their math proficiency, they also develop problem-solving, thinking, and citizenship skills that they will use for a lifetime.

Victor: How is it unique from other math-focused educational software on the market? What companies do you see as your main competitors?

CREDIT Think Through MathLou: Several math programs offer Web-based, supplemental support. However, they provide only practice and do not provide direct instruction paired with practice. We haven’t seen any programs with the level of customization and personalization that TTM provides nor the degree of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation factors. And, perhaps most importantly, we haven’t seen any other offerings that provide unlimited access to live, highly skilled, Common Core-trained math teachers.

Victor: How has TTM evolved since its founding? How has it grown? Are there any significant developments for the 2013/2014 school year?

Lou: TTM continually adds content, interactivity, and next-generation assessment formats. In January 2014, the program will also be able to be fully compatible with iPad and Android tablets.

Victor: How much does TTM cost and how do I get it in my district/school?

Lou: An unlimited Site License is $16 per student/year. We think it’s important that budget-conscious districts can raise their math trajectory for a low cost.

Victor: What do you think is the secret to motivating students to get excited about math and finding success?

Lou:

Motivating them to do more math. Whatever that takes. One of the most powerful motivational experiences students have on Think Through Math is being part of a team and learning how to work together. Though students often earn points in order to beat their personal best, they’re also engaged in endeavors “bigger than themselves.”

Donations to Charity. Students work individually and collaboratively to earn points for classroom supplies, special events, and select charities. More than 50 percent of our students use the online redemption center to donate their points to the United Way, Boys and Girls Clubs, Wounded Warrior, and others. Think Through Math also designs periodic state-specific disaster relief programs as needed. For example, in late spring 2013, students worked together to raise more than $20,000 for Red Cross fire and tornado relief efforts in Texas and Oklahoma.

Theme-based Contests. Students are presented with a series of fun, short-term contests (one to four weeks) that target a wide range of relevant and engaging themes– State Math Showdowns, I Heart Math, March Math Madness, and many others. Educators are able to leverage class goals or allow students to compete as individuals. The powerful peer-to-peer collaboration process combined with teacher leadership has proven to be a significant driver for students to make a strong effort both in class and outside of school.

Victor: What’s your favorite anecdote about a student and/or school finding success using TTM?

Lou: I have many examples and it’s tough to pick just one, but I was recently talking to a Texas Tech college freshman, Regan Moreau, and hearing how, despite her success in everything except math throughout high school, she could not pass the state math test, disqualifying her from college. With access to TTM in her senior year, working in her free time after school, from home and in the school lab, she rebuilt the foundational math skills she needed. Through practice, she corrected misconceptions and developed the math confidence necessary to complete her end-of-high-school math requirements.

Victor: What do you see as the future for U.S. education and TTM?

Lou: True blended learning where teachers facilitate TTM instruction and more students in more grades are using TTM. We are also continually developing new features to create even more interactivity.

Victor: What should teachers/educators/students get excited about?

Lou: Watching the lights go on for students. Learning that math is a system that makes sense. Realizing that they have the capacity for math success, even if they have never experienced success before. And, engaging with a program that motivates students to spend more time doing math–a program that can literally change behavior.

Victor Rivero is the Editor in Chief of EdTech Digest. Are you an edtech leader, trendsetter, or the creator of a cool edtech tool? The 2014 EdTech Digest Awards extended entry period runs until October 18, 2013. There is still time to enter. For full details, write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

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