COSTA MESA — College Park Elementary School preschoolers took turns this week at a pint-sized computer station acquainting themselves with a computer game they will play during the next six years.
Preschooler Nathaniel Mejia, 4, was busy completing a picture puzzle of a penguin by fitting pop-up pieces of the bird into its outline on the computer screen.
Next to him, Fernando Palacious, 5, had completed the puzzle and was practicing matching pictures of the penguin taken from different angles.
"You already passed a level?" Nathaniel asked his friend in surprise.
College Park and Davis Magnet School are the first in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District to start using the self-paced math computer program developed by the nonprofit MIND Research Institute in their preschool classes.
The program, known as "JiJi," is already being used in K-5 classes to reinforce math lessons.
"This is a huge bonus for our preschoolers," said College Park Principal Julie McCormick. "They are just going to be all the more ready for kindergarten."
Throughout the year, JiJi will go over the names of shapes, counting to and in sets of 10, patterns, and simple addition and subtraction, said Angela Goddard, a preschool teacher at College Park for 11 years.
The students have been learning computer basics, such as how to turn on the machine, use a mouse and maneuver around the screen.
Twice weekly, Goddard's class uses a computer-based literacy program, and JiJi will be added in the classes schedule three times a week.
"I think bringing in this technology in the classroom has really enabled them to learn in different ways," she said.
Her students prepared for JiJi's arrival for about a week by physically practicing some of the lessons they will do on the computer.
"I was so excited to try it," Fernando said.
After just one lesson, he said the program was "great."
"I feel like I'm learning," he said.
JiJi follows the state's academic standards and uses spatial temporal reasoning, which teaches students about relationships in time and space.
"It's helping them conceptualize math concepts that can sometimes be abstract," McCormick said.
The preschool class will pilot the program for the rest of the school year to see how the students respond to it.
The program is already a favorite of teachers and students in the upper grades.
In her second-grade class, Kristin Viramontes said she will bring up the computer game to show the whole class if they are having difficulty with a lesson.
Many of her students are also ahead of what they are learning in class, making it easier for them to understand new concepts when she teaches them, she said.
Her students who find math hard struggle with the program, but most of the others have fun with JiJi.
"For some of them, they don't even realize they're doing math," Viramontes said.
See the penguin in action
Test out a demo of the K-5 program