When Math is More Than Just a Losing Game: How Shannon’s Two Kids Won Their Very Own Gold Medal in Math

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Your eyes gaze at the goal, mustering all of your energy to focus on that one point in time.


You knew that with the perfect kick, you could make the shot.


With your eyes on the prize, your junior cleats took a swift kick in the direction of Gatorade waterfalls, teammates celebrating, and parents cheering from the sidelines.


Your heart was set for that ball to go in.


Unfortunately, your foot was not.


The soccer ball slashed against the goalpost, clacking with a cringe-worthy bang and slowly wandering into the surrounding woods as the opposing team had a big sigh of relief.


It was your one shot, and you failed.


Hundreds of thousands of kids deal with this same pressure each and every day, just behind desks instead of on the field. Though kids work around all different types of struggles, a common struggle in many students is the struggle in math.


They try, and try, and try again.


As they get closer and closer to the win, their work is harshly stopped by the slap of an Expo on the whiteboard, writing the correct answer as they quickly erase theirs, hoping their classmates don’t see their incorrect answer, and hoping even more that their teachers don’t ask to collect their work to grade.


For many, math is a game of winning and losing, with one mistake costing them the entire “game,”  and leaving them forced to remember that disappointing moment either by the defeated shoulders of their teammates or by their flunked test, required to be sent home and signed by their parents.


For Shannon a single mom of two kids, her experience in math as a child was much different. She adored the challenging equations, and felt like an investigator, that with only the secret formula was she able to come up with the number that will unlock the entire problem. 


She even went to school to study mathematics, became a tutor, and now offers to help her friends’ kids when they’re struggling.


After having kids of her own, she became a substitute teacher in their public school, allowing her the flexibility to alternate between teaching and tutoring.


Sometimes, she wished she could drop into her kids’ classrooms and tell them that they’re doing great. She could tell passing them in the hallways that their minds were flooded with their latest math grades.


As much as she didn’t want to say it, they were struggling at a rate that didn’t seem reversible.


For Jackson and Cassidy, their problems with math primarily stemmed from two different issues:


The first issue was that even though they had their mom at their disposal, learning from her didn’t feel the same as learning from a teacher. Every time she tried to sit down with them and practice, it felt like they were being reprimanded, and as if instead of calmly showing them an equation, she was telling them to put their dishes away, clean their rooms, or get ready for bed.


The second issue was that it simply wasn’t fun for them. Blank white sheets of paper with only one correct answer? No, thank you.


To them, their mom was the referee, dictating the shots, determining which moves were right and which ones needed to get backtracked and re-started.


To them, their mom was just another cog in the wheel, preventing them from finding any sort of breakthrough, because they didn’t feel they had the freedom to try, fail, and try again.


To Shannon, she just wanted to share her enthusiasm and love for math just like she had when she was young.


Neither one of their efforts was translating.


The most difficult part of it was that when they were in the classroom, all they seemed to care about was impressing their teacher. They wanted that gold star, that participation point, that prize. But what they didn’t want to know was how to replicate their process again and again. Jackson and Cassidy prized the outcome more than the learned technique, and it was costing them their grades, their attitudes, and their dispositions.


To them, math wasn’t a tactical tool that would help them in the future whether through budgeting their money, creating a business plan, or counting by tens to gather up their monthly rent. They saw it as a win/lose situation, and every time they tried again, they were getting closer and closer to defeat and further and further away from the gold.

Finding Elephant Learning

Related: Attitude is Everything for These Four Siblings Learning Math


When Shannon found out about Elephant Learning, she realized that she didn’t have to continue trying to translate her love of math onto Jackson and Cassidy. 


Her solution was to make it fun, and that’s exactly what Elephant Learning did.


Through the gamified system on Elephant Learning’s platform, Jackson and Cassidy felt like they were playing a game, and not like they were doing schoolwork, to the point that they actually looked forward to playing it after dinner.


It was a total shock to Shannon, but she didn’t question it at all. She knew from substitute teaching and through tutoring that by making lessons and subjects more enjoyable, children are more likely to be receptive and retain information.


Along with being a platform that teaches from a game, Elephant Learning also leans on a personalized, self-paced experience for each student, so they can see growth and improvement without feeling a sense of comparison or competition between other learners.


Her favorite part about Elephant Learning was the tracked learning process. 


At the start of the program, Jackson and Cassidy both had an initial assessment that analyzed their math skills at that current moment in time. Then, through careful processing, the platform produces an Elephant Age, which is the age that platform starts their learning at.


From here, with successes and improvements in the game, each student’s Elephant Age continued to rise.


For many, this growth-centered learning is different from traditional classroom models.


In school, when a student gets a low grade, their grade drops, and when they get a high grade, their grade rises.


With Elephant Learning, mistakes are tracked and carefully re-entered to ensure that the student is mastering each skill before moving on. When they don’t get an answer right, it only grabs more and more ways of implementing that skill in the platform until that student masters it.


The key here is that students don’t get punished like they would in school, but instead carefully guided towards success.


The win/lose game in math is over. With Elephant Learning, it’s all about growth.


Having this wonderful combination of fun, encouraging, and individualization now allows Jackson and Cassidy to see continual growth in their skills through the game and through their Elephant Age.


Just check out the results.


Jackson’s Experience with Elephant Learning

Related: How Anne Taught Math and Various Problem-Solving Skills to Her Three Kids


Jackson started out at an Elephant Age of 4.17. As an almost twelve year old, it’s clear why Shannon was concerned for his grades. As he continued on in the game, his growth skyrocketed, and in two months, he went from way below average to almost exactly his actual age. That 4.17 turned into a 10.05, yielding a 5.88 year difference in 10 weeks.


Focusing on his own self-growth only benefited him, and Shannon could see the sense of accomplishment in his eyes every time he closed down the game before bed. She felt accomplished too, knowing that he started to feel the same love of math that she was.


Now, Jackson won’t feel like he’s falling behind when he sees an A on his friend's test next to him, and a C on his own. All he sees is his personal score, his learning curve, and his capability of growth.


And this didn’t only affect his own determination, but his little sister’s, too.


Cassidy’s Experience with Elephant Learning

Cassidy is three years younger than her brother, so naturally, she looks up to him, especially when she’s struggling and needs a good role model. Seeing him confidently complete his games after dinner inspired her to have the same experience.


She came into the program with a 6.3 Elephant Age, which is about two years below her actual age. With the same stamina and determination of her brother, she raised her age 3.5 points, which brought her to well above her actual age (and her classmates!) at a 9.81. 


Just like with the swift kick of a soccer ball, Shannon and her kids won the game, but it wasn’t that of perfection, but that of growth.

Jackson Results

  • Age: 11.7
  • Starting Elephant Learning Age: 4.17
  • Current Elephant Learning Age: 10.05
  • The difference after 10 weeks: 5.88


Cassidy Results

  • Age: 8.5
  • Starting Elephant Learning Age: 6.3
  • Current Elephant Learning Age: 9.81
  • The difference after 10 weeks: 3.51



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