Right now, 53% of American adults cannot read past the sixth-grade level. On the math front, 61% of our adults cannot solve two-step math questions with whole numbers.
In other words, over half our nation’s adults – who buy homes, hold jobs and care for dependents – are operating cognitively like ten-year-old kids.
Clearly our education system has failed for decades to engage all kids in successful learning. Fun Factor is nothing short of our boldest attempt to reimagine elementary math education and solve society’s math problem.
Fun Factor is the “third child” of Bedtime Math. Launched by Laura Overdeck in 2012, Bedtime Math gives kids playful nightly math problems to do with their families, on topics ranging from flamingos to pillow forts to wacky world records. Within weeks the blog had tens of thousands of regular users, but immediately parents and educators asked, “Do you have hands-on activities, too?” There was a hunger for tangible, real-life math.
In response, we created Crazy 8s, a recreational after-school math club where groups of young kids of all math abilities could revel together in numbers, shapes, patterns and secret codes. We followed a simple rule: instead of trying to make math fun, we identify things kids already find fun, then unearth the math in them.
By the time we had shipped 13,000 kits to clubs in all 50 states, coaches were telling us, “My club members are having a blast, but they’re also outperforming their classmates in math. Can I use these materials during school hours?” We answered the call, and sharpened our activities to align to the many essential math skills in the K-5 scaffolding. Thus, Fun Factor was born.
Fun Factor jumpstarts math understanding in three ways:
- Make math engaging. We bring math to life when students work in groups to explore patterns with glowsticks or to beat the odds on the gameboard. We ignite their curiosity while secretly giving them practice in multiplication facts or decimal-percent conversion. They don’t even realize it!
- Draw in students with different cognitive strengths. The spatial and enumeration (counting) regions of the brain are distinct, and students may excel in one, the other, or both. Research using MRIs shows that greater connectivity between the two enables stronger math skills. Through visual and geometric representations, we help strengthen those connections, giving learners new toeholds on abstract concepts like the long division algorithm, or the difference between adding and multiplying fractions.
- Serve different levels of mastery. Students can’t engage if the content is so easy they’re bored, or so difficult that it’s frustrating. Fun Factor’s tangible activities and small-group structure enable kids to jump in at different entry points. Thus, all students in the classroom enjoy the same fun materials, while personally feeling the thrill of victory on their own path to mastery.
We can tell it’s working. We’ve heard from teachers that students ask to take our math-fact practice beach ball outside to keep playing during recess, and play our Pirate Treasure Hunt fraction-plotting activity multiple rounds without stopping. We’ve also heard teachers tell us that when students hear they’re doing Fun Factor that day, they cheer. If ever there was a time when students need to feel excited about math, it’s now. This is how we begin the steep but conquerable climb to a next generation that embraces and excels at math.