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Senators propose ‘First in Math’ initiative in Pa.

Submitted Photos On the left Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Lehigh/Northampton, speaks with the media. On the right, Rep. Bob Freeman, D-Northampton, speaks during House of Representatives voting session.

A bipartisan mix of state senators want to create the First in Math initiative inside the state Department of Education.

The program is being used by the New York state Education Department to support STEM readiness for children in kindergarten through fifth grades with a five-year program titled the Expanded Math Access Program, which utilizes First in Math. The program is used in roughly 40 states.

Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Lehigh/Northampton, and Sen. Ryan Aument, R-Lancaster, have sponsored Senate Bill 1095 to add Pennsylvania to the ranks of states contracting with First in Math. The legislation is also backed by a bipartisan group of senators with companion legislation to be introduced soon in the state House of Representatives by Reps. Robert Freeman, D-Northampton, and Barb Gleim, R-Cumberland. The Senate bill has been referred to the Senate Education Committee.

“In the near future, we intend to introduce legislation that will create the First in Math initiative within the Department of Education,” Boscola and Aument wrote in their legislative justification. “First in Math is a widely used online program which features hundreds of engaging math games designed to strengthen fact fluency, automaticity, computational thinking and other critical math skills.”

First In Math features math games geared from those who need academic intervention to students who excel in math. The system is used by about 20% of Pennsylvania’s students already, according to Boscola and Aument, with results the legislators term “encouraging.”

The legislation would require the Pennsylvania Department of Education to establish a statewide First in Math initiative and encourage its usage by educators. It would be an optional tool, and not a mandated part of the curriculum. All curriculum decisions continue to remain at the local school district level.

Marvine Elementary School, in the Bethlehem Area School District, is a Title 1 school with a 96% free/reduced lunch and 92% minority student population. In the 2018-2019 school year, Marvine achieved a 32.9 percentage-point increase in fourth grade students scoring Proficient & Advanced on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) mathematics test. Six classrooms participated in a study by Lehigh University researchers, which included two classrooms each of third, fourth, and fifth grades at Marvine Elementary School in the Bethlehem Area School District (BASD) located in northeast Pennsylvania. All the students engaged in the First in Math online program.

“There would be no cost to a school for use of the program, and it would be optional and flexible. Educators could use the program as part of enrichment or extension education, summer learning or to complement current work already being done in the classroom,” Gleim said. “What teachers are looking for are options and new ideas and First in Math is a proven, fun learning tool that could help boost math learning and interest in school.”

First in Math was created by Robert Sun, chairman, president and chief executive of Suntex International Inc. Sun is an inventor, engineer and entrepreneur who holds numerous U.S. patents and several copyrights in the field of educational games.

Sun, who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1970 with a degree in electrical engineering, is a nationally-recognized expert in the use of technology to enhance math education. Sun’s articles have appeared in The Huffington Post, U.S. News & World Report, USA Today Magazine and many education-related publications. In December 1994, Pennsylvania Gov.-elect Tom Ridge’s transition team chose Sun to serve as a member to help prepare a report on the Pennsylvania Department of Education. In April 1995, Sun was appointed by Gov. Ridge to serve as a member of the State Board of Education of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In 1997, Gov. Ridge appointed Sun to the Team Pennsylvania Ambassador Council.

“First in Math is a proven, user-friendly educational tool for learning math skills. Longtime Easton resident and First in Math creator, Bob Sun, has demonstrated his devotion to promoting math skills with great success as First in Math is now being used in more than 40 states. This is a tremendous opportunity to provide students in all schools throughout the commonwealth with a successful math learning tool that comes with proven data to support its outstanding record of improving the academic attainment of math proficiency,” said Freeman.

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