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For Mitzi Adams, research for her capstone project as a math educator added up to something more than a master’s degree. Reading for her literature review uncovered scientific studies that changed the way she thought about teaching math after 25 years in the field. Today the result of the capstone project is an innovative iPad app called Count On It that Apple has just approved and began offering last week.
Mitzi decided to enroll with WGU after she left classroom teaching to join the staff at Abilene Christian University. “I couldn’t teach because I didn’t have a master’s degree,” she explains. “So I helped coordinate field work assignments and student teaching, but I missed teaching.” After a few failed attempts with other graduate programs that didn’t fit her life with work and family commitments, Mitzi applied to WGU’s College of Education.
She says she didn’t realize how much research she would conduct or that she would enjoy it and want to do more now, after graduating.
“In my classrooms I had tried every manipulative to help increase math fluency, and I could always tell after just a week or two who would be successful that year and who wouldn’t.” And then it all changed. As she worked on her lit review she kept coming back to the concept of subitizing - (from the Latin word to know instantly) — a concept for developing math fluency in early childhood. “If we play with dominoes long enough you will get to where you just know the number of dots by looking without having to actually count each one — that is subitizing,” she explains. “I read fascinating research about neural ophthalmologists testing 100 children from across the performance spectrum — special education to gifted and talented, and what they found surprised them.” She explains that researchers used electrode monitoring to test how a child receives information, and how they store information. There was no significant difference between struggling learners and exceptional learners. Then, she says, the researchers decided to study how information is retrieved.
“There were huge differences in the way fluent thinkers retrieve information compared to struggling students,” says Mitzi. “The researchers began to ask how they could strengthen the visual capacity that allows for optimal retrieval.” For three weeks they worked with children for ten minutes a day showing flash cards with various numbers on dice. The children got faster and faster at knowing the numbers. “What’s fascinating is although they only worked with subitizing the visual cues, the students’ addition skills increased noticeably from the pre-test to the post-test.” Mitzi knew she had to explore this for herself, and made subitizing and visual memory enhancement her capstone project.
She got an abacus and took pictures of its colored beads at each number sequence from 1 – 100. She made flash cards and used them in activities and games such as the traditional “go fish”. “My goal was to increase my students’ automaticity (the auto recall of facts — in this case addition) even though we were not practicing addition skills — we were practicing building the visual memory of numbers.” What she found supported the research she had studied. “The highest increase in addition skills pre-test and post-test was with a child receiving special education instruction,” she says. “The really exciting part for me was the ability for this to improve skills across the spectrum. Every child participating improved. I had two students designated for gifted and talented instruction, and it’s hard on these learners as they quickly become bored in classrooms. They were engaged and they increased their addition skills at 50% and 64% respectively,” says Mitzi.
After her work was done and her degree conferred from WGU, Mitzi shot straight up in bed one night. “About 2 a.m. I just woke up and screamed, ‘It’s an App!!’” She was employed at ACU where she hired a sophomore in the technology degree track, Clement Ho (class of 2013) and the two joined forces to create an app from the abacus flash cards. She involved others. The app was then strengthened further when it was suggested Mitzi add tonality for special education students. Now when students use the abacus function different tones are emitted depending on whether a student has slid the one, five or ten bead. “You can see and hear what 67 is!” says Mitzi.
The app named Count On It offers four functions: The Abacus, Add it Up, Quick Add and a Quiz function. “It was intended for teachers to use in the classroom but anyone can use it to strengthen math fluency — children, parents, teachers…” says Mitzi.
“The marketing director for the southwest region for Apple commended me for my documentation and research. Well, it was my capstone project!” She and her team have plans to develop more apps and Mitzi admits to wanting to do more research. “I wanted to study earlier in the education pipeline and conduct research in first grade and kindergarten."
“I didn’t want to take a master’s degree program just to get a piece of paper,” says Mitzi. “I had started in two other programs and stopped after a few courses. It just wasn’t working for me or my family and job. WGU was different. One of the richest experiences is being supported by a mentor. She helped me all along the way with regular contact and encouragement. My mentor helped me get my feet wet in the research aspect of this program.”
For Mitzi, going back for a master’s degree added up. Count on it. Learn more at Mitzi’s website: http://www.countonitapps.com.
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