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Story of the Month: DreamBox Favored Over Others by Technology Staff, Teachers—and Kids

East Coast educator Marianne Strayton, Ed.D., has taught various elementary grades, most recently teaching first grade at Clarkstown Elementary, and has held the position of Math & Science Coordinator K­–12 for Clarkstown School District, serving 9,000 students across 16 schools. Dr. Strayton’s doctorate was earned at Teachers College, Columbia University, where she concentrated in Educational Leadership and Teacher Education within the Curriculum & Teaching department. She holds certifications in elementary education, gifted education, and administration.

As a math coordinator for the district, Marianne saw that many students were struggling with math concepts in intermediate and middle school. After returning to teaching, she was assigned to first grade and says, “I couldn’t have been happier, because I felt I could enable some changes. Early intervention is so important and the gap only widens the longer you wait.” Based on her research and the compelling work of Dr. Catherine Fosnot (who serves on DreamBox’s Advisory Board), she was pursuing math racks, and looking for a stronger, visually-based math learning foundation online program.

#1 Choice
When she received a free trial offer from DreamBox, it fit her criteria, so she and some other teaching colleagues began using it in 2010. “I’d looked at many, many different learning programs and most of them just felt like assessment prep, rather than supporting kids with practicing facts, problem solving and making them think differently, feel more successful and confident.” 

In the Spring of 2011, the Director of Technology for the district had all teachers submit names of potential classroom programs. They had three weeks to test, review the ratings spreadsheet and then comment. By far, DreamBox received the highest number of votes. After pilot testing, DreamBox was the #1 choice. The Tech Coordinator said, “We’ve got to make this happen.” The program is now in use in labs for the 2012 school year. 

Thinking in the DreamBox
“Here’s a good example,” states Marianne, “I put a horizontal addition problem on board. A child raised her hand and knew the answer right away. When I asked her how she figured it out, she said, ‘Well I took the two from 12 and put it into the 48 …’ and I noticed how she was moving her eyes and hands, and could see that she was thinking and feeling the ‘bucket’ exercise. I hadn’t done that style of using buckets or moving the numbers across yet—it is difficult to teach it in class—but you can do it over and over again with DreamBox. And I know she did. What kids learn stick, and they use and feel the concepts and learn how to think differently. It’s very exciting.”

She provides a further example: “Another student in my first grade class was just frozen when it came to math. Then we introduced DreamBox, and he continued using it over the summer. Now in second grade, he’s grown by leaps and bounds. This child, who just could not wrap his head around subtraction or problem solving and was paralyzed—can now give me multiple ways to come up with the correct answer.”

An Exciting Choice for Kids and Parents
Parents have written to Marianne on a Sunday night and asked on behalf of their first and fourth graders if they could go on DreamBox, and said they loved it as much as the kids. “Kids are asking to use it all the time; kids are saying that it’s fun; it feels like a game, and they compare notes, saying things like ‘I just got two certificates!’ Sometimes the first two or three weeks with any online learning experience is exciting because it’s new, but even after a year kids are still excited about what they learn and how they feel while they’re working with DreamBox.” 

A Real-time Learning Opportunity for Teachers
It has also helped her as a teacher to unplug the headphones and listen in while a child is ‘playing the game’ in the lab. “It provides a chance,” observes Marianne, “to see what they are doing, but not under the gun as in an assessment. If they are stuck on a certain set of tasks, I can see why they’re stuck, and I can teach it immediately or include it in a lesson next day. That is an opportunity to pinpoint student needs in real time.” 

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