Games + math = fun

For the fourth-graders at Plaza Vista Elementary School in Irvine, math is a sport.

The year-round, K-8 school uses the First in Math program to motivate students.

Fourth-grade teacher Dawn Burgess discovered the program about five years ago. After a trial subscription, she signed up her students for the online program because her class loved it so much.

Now, all three fourth-grade classes are using the course during their extra time at school and at home. The program uses games tailored to the user, varying from addition to geometry.

"It helps the kids figure out patterns, learn tricks and other methods to problem solving," Burgess said. "There's a competitive component to it, both individually and as a class."

Students can make the "Top 5" — those who have the highest score in the school — or rank as a class, school or even within the state, she said.

First in Math really lets students practice basic math skills, especially for those who may need it, fourth-grade teacher Hope Benzie added. It also allows them to explore other math lessons.

"Some fourth-graders are working on eighth-grade algebra," she said. "The games are tailored to the individual, and they figure out what they can do pretty quickly."

Part of the fun is the competitive nature of the program, which the students enjoy, Burgess and Benzie agreed.

"The students interact with and learn from each other, so it's also a social and interactive program," Principal Heather Phillips noted.

Mohammad Rhalil, 9, is a top scorer.

"I love the problems," he said. "I love problem-solving."

At first, he said he didn't feel like he was really good at it, "but then I got used to the program and it started getting kind of easy."

He said he likes both in the classroom teaching and the First in Math games.

"I love math homework," he said, adding that he spends a half hour to an hour on it at home. He hopes to be an engineer when he grows up, "like my mom and dad."

"The big thing is it's a confidence builder, and the classes try to compete with each other and pass the other class' score," Benzie said.

The program costs about $8 per student per year, Phillips said. In the past, parents have helped fund the program, but the past couple of years, the school's PTA has pitched in.

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