Preventing the "Summer Slide" in Math Skills

It's the end of the school year, and although most students look forward to vacation, the summer months can have a detrimental impact on students' academic progress. It's called the "Summer Slide": skills gained during the school year melt away with the heat, and that "summer learning loss" translates into teachers spending a good chunk of the academic year playing catch-up before being able to move forward.

Summer learning loss happens with all subjects, but math and literacy are often the biggest cause for concern. Without regular practice, these skills tend to diminish over the summer months, especially in high-poverty communities. When it comes to literacy, disadvantaged students are disproportionately affected by losses in reading skills. According to a study by the National Summer Learning Association, two-thirds of the ninth grade reading achievement gap can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities.

But when it comes to the loss of math skills over the summer months, all students are equally affected -- regardless of socio-economic background. There has been no equivalent of the summer reading list for math, no equivalent of the summer library book program.

Sending home a stack of math worksheets doesn't really cut it, either. And that's where the math education website TenMarks is stepping in, with the release of its summer math programs aimed not only at helping students keep their math skills sharp over the holidays but at helping them progress as well.

Last summer, TenMarks piloted a program at Lorna Verde Elementary School in Novato, California, and according to the company, the math skills of 82% of those who used the Web app improved, according to its representatives.

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As students move through the lessons in TenMark, they're offered a "nudge towards success" -- 3 clues that help them solve problems when they get stuck. The first hint involves some advice on how to approach the problem. The second involves insight on how to actually set the problem up to solve it. And the third is a step away from the answer.

The TenMarks program isn't free. It costs $39 per student for unlimited usage over the summer.

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Parents can find a number of other similar tools -- both free and paid --  to help their kids maintain their math skills over the summer months.

  • Math Goodies. Offers interactive lessons, worksheets, and homework help.
  • Math.com. Free games and problems solving fractions, decimals, percents, square roots, and other math puzzles.
  • Math Drills. An iTunes app that allows up to 10 students to work on basic math skills, like addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

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