Can math ever be as fun as the outdoors?
Let’s look into Yasmeen’s journey, a single parent of four children, two of whom are already out of the house working and saving up for college.
For her youngest two children, only one of them has been able to overcome his challenges with math.
For her other child, Zara, math, and school in general, has been anything but enjoyable.
Zara can be most often found in nature; playing with small insects, going swimming, and playing on the trampoline in their backyard. She’d much rather be doing something fun and physical than sitting in class and working with numbers.
Zara had struggled with math ever since she was in kindergarten, and since then, running away from homework to go spend time outside was always her move, especially when that homework involved numbers.
For her, it seemed like math was a lost-cause. And even more worried was her mother, Yasmeen.
For Yasmeen, trying to get her daughter excited for math seemed almost impossible. What she thought was her only problem was that Yasmeen didn’t understand or enjoy math when she was in grade school. But what she soon realized when she’d try to help Zara with her work is that the way math was taught in England was way different from the way math was taught in her home country: Portugal.
Yasmeen came to England from Portugal after having her first child. She was and still is a single mother and a full-time nurse, speaking broken English trying to understand what’s going on in her children’s lives constantly. Her children learned the English language and the common English ways of education quickly, but Yasmeen’s immersion in a bilingual hospital in her job didn’t help her understand her daughter’s math homework any more.
Yasmeen found herself constantly battling with the English language and ways of teaching math. As she balanced her full-time job with helping her children with her schoolwork, she found herself spending more and more time, energy, and tears on Zara’s math assignments.
In the past, she’d tried tutoring, but she was never able to follow along with Zara, as she was instructed to sit in the parents’ section and give her daughter space to learn. She wanted an understanding of math so she could help Zara in the long-run, but in-person lessons weren’t quite doing it; for Yasmeen, and for Zara.
After one particularly difficult night filled with tears, Yasmeen knew that enough was enough, and Zara needed something that would help her math understanding in the long run. She realized that Zara’s math proficiency was lower than her classmates, but it was tough to find a math games app that was equally educational, engaging, and cohesive for her to follow along with.
It was no picnic trying to get Zara more enthusiastic about math, either. Her in-person tutoring sessions were boring, and she’d try to squeeze through math homework as quickly as possible so she could get back outside to play. Zara was creative, athletic, and constantly inspired by nature. She needed a way to translate those feelings into the perfect math games app.
Yasmeen eventually got a hold of a WhatsApp group for bilingual parents. This became a key resource for her to start investigating math games apps that would help Zara not only barely get by, but actually enjoy doing math.
She’d often been the one listening to different conversations in the group, but finally sent a chat asking for a math games app for Zara. Many parents responded back with Elephant Learning, something Yasmeen had never heard of before. After further investigation, she came across a phrase that she loved: teaching math as a language. Not just that, but it was an app that parents were using across the globe-- from the mom who suggested it to her in America, straight to where Yasmeen was in England!
For the first time, something about math clicked for Yasmeen. Yes, she thought. Math should be a language! That way, anybody who wanted to learn, no matter what they spoke, could understand it.
She raced over to the website, purchased the program, and hoped and prayed that it would get the okay from Zara, whose picky taste for math games apps and other learning apps hadn’t proved successful in the past.
Zara was hesitant to start on a new math journey.
She felt jaded from constantly struggling with math in school, and didn’t think that math could be taught any other way.
She thought her only language was movement; jumping, cartwheeling, and swimming. Nothing sounded worse to her than being forced to sit inside and stare at numbers all day.
But even starting the placement exam, which is the free assessment at the beginning of the program to see each child’s math understanding, Zara was perplexed and impressed with how much fun she was having.
Elephant Learning felt like a game she’d play on her mom’s iPad, that had math sprinkled in there so easily that it wasn’t grueling like it was in her workbooks. The games were fun, colorful, and exciting, and it sometimes felt like she wasn’t learning at all.
At the time of taking the exam, Zara scored an Elephant Age of 8.06, which was just slightly below her actual age of 8.4 years old. She wasn’t surprised that she was a little bit below her age but felt an innate determination to push it upwards. Just like she challenged herself to new skills on her trampoline, she wanted to challenge herself to raise that Elephant Age.
So every weekday, Zara asked for the iPad from her mom so she could practice math on her new math games app.
Now, the team here at Elephant Learning suggests that students don’t exceed 30 minutes of time on the platform per week, with a suggested usage of 10 minutes a day for three days a week to prevent burnout.
For Zara? She wanted the extra time. She started going on the platform every day for 10, 15, and sometimes 20 minutes. She was excited for the challenge. She wanted to look back at her work and be proud of accomplishing something great, just like she did in swimming and when learning new trampoline skills.
Since the concepts were simple and the games were visual, it didn’t take Yasmeen long to understand everything that Zara was learning. She’d receive email reports from the system whenever Zara would play so she could see exactly how Zara was doing and what she was struggling with (in a way Yasmeen could understand, too).
For the first time in a learning game, Yasmeen didn’t have to push Zara. She didn’t have to give her ultimatums or incentives. Zara’s love for upping her Elephant Age was enough to get her motivated to stay on the platform, so for Yasmeen, math started becoming one less thing to worry about.
Soon, Zara’s tests came around. Instead of Cs and Ds, there were more and more that were As and Bs. There were no more tears during math homework. In fact, Zara loved having an “in” compared to her other classmates; knowing that she had already mastered the concepts her teacher was teaching.
Yasmeen had a big sigh of release. As a single mom with English as her second language, not many things came easy to their family. But for once, math wasn’t the one thing stressing her out before and after work. For the first time, she was understanding the language of math without needing to lean over her daughter’s shoulder.
Yasmeen had guided her daughter towards an easier, simpler way of understanding math. One that was fun, engaging, and educational.
And for Yasmeen? She finally learned that third language.