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Dr. Ginsburg on Designing Tiggly's Digits + Symbols Math Platform

We sat down with Herbert Ginsburg, a Jacob H. Schiff Foundation Professor of Psychology and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. For over fifty years, Professor Ginsburg has been doing research on how children think and has written several books on the subject. He has also been Tiggly’s chief advisor in the development and design of the Digits + Symbols Math Platform.

Can you tell us a bit about Tiggly’s newest math platform?

Tiggly Digits + Symbols is a math platform that teaches kids important aspects of some basic mathematical principles, including more or less than, adding, subtracting and determining equality. What’s unique is that Digits + Symbols is the first standards-aligned math platform designed for classrooms that incorporates the use of manipulatives with digital content. It takes kids on a math adventure around Chef’s town so that kids master important math concepts and it also gives teachers the ability to control which concepts and levels each student progresses through.

How was the design of Digits + Symbols informed by your research?

Well, for several years we’ve mapped out the sequence of math ideas that kids need to learn starting at age 3 and up. During that time we designed computer activities that could help kids master these ideas. A lot of these designs, the ways of picturing problems and developing activities for kids were then used in developing games for Digits + Symbols.

What’s most important at this stage of learning is the sequence of activities. We have a very carefully selected series of activities that progress in a specific manner and respond to what kids know at certain ages as well as what they need to learn at by certain ages. We basically leveraged years of research on kids mathematical thinking to develop computer approaches to that thinking and all of this is reflected in the Digits + Symbols platform.

What are some design features used in the platform that are important for early math learning?

The first is that kids will always see various virtual objects to learn basic concepts. They’re not just dealing with written numbers or memorizing number facts. Instead,they see objects on the screen and are also handling objects. For example, in some activities they use three-dimensional shapes of written numbers. The use of physical objects that interact with digital content is pretty unique in children’s software.

Another design feature is that kids are asked to solve problems that involve those objects. Whether the questions require using the images on the screen or manipulatives to answer the questions, all of those are connected to the objects on the screen and the kids moving around of those objects. It’s a kind of synthesis of action --kids moving objects around, touching the real objects and placing them on the screen, and even tracing numerals to learn how to write.

Why are manipulatives important to learning for kids at this age?

Physical objects are very important because kids are in the real world, with objects, and they learn their informal math by interacting with things. For example, imagine 2 siblings sitting at the kitchen table and one kid has 2 cookies and the other 3 cookies. There could be some lively discussion about the number of cookies on their plates.

Kids are in the real world where objects are important and where they are faced with everyday problems involving objects. We want them to take everyday knowledge that they develop in their worlds and bring it into schools. Tiggly activities help them to make connections between what they already know about those objects with more formal aspects of math. In a school this is very important. Kids should not be using only textbooks; they really need this contact with real objects.

What are some important milestones kids go through in Kindergarten and First-grade?

Kids are learning some basic things like how to write numerals, how to read them, and how to read words. In terms of milestones they need to learn, they must learn the essence of the counting numbers, their structure, and basic ideas about place value, for example that 20 is really 2 tens and that 23 is 2 tens and 3 units. They also have to learn some very fundamental things about addition and subtraction. Things like: “What happens when you combine 2 different groups of objects?”

Finally, one of the biggest things they have to learn at this time is that math makes sense--that there’s a reason for the math principles, activities and facts, and they need to learn to talk about these and express how they’re thinking about them.

Tiggly is giving students experience with dealing with visual objects on the screen, dealing with this whole system of base 10’s and how 40 really means 4 tens. What’s important about Tiggly is that it is structured to help kids get the major important ideas about math.

How does the platform address the needs of kids at various stages of learning?

The platform is designed in a flexible way to accommodate to children’s different abilities and interests. We know that not all kids at the same age know exactly the same things, so the platform is designed to adjust to the child’s level of work. If a child is doing extremely well, the child will go through a sequence of activities quickly until it gets more challenging and appropriate for that child. It’s important for activities to not be too hard or to easy. We want to make sure they are challenging for kids at different ages.

What can teachers gain by using Tiggly in the classrooms?

One advantage for teachers is that the kids will be involved in some very interesting math activities and will enjoy them. There’s a spirit of fun around the activities. They are not just drills and they are not mindless; they require thought and it’s wonderful to see the excitement the children have around the activities.

What about Tiggly gets students excited?

One reason is the terrific design elements. The images are wonderful, and the characters are funny. It’s really a lot of fun. Silly things go on in service of serious ideas.

How does the product support success?

I think one of the most important things kids will learn with this product is that math can be a lot of fun and that they can do it. I think that is very crucial. It makes education not just meaningful but also joyful!

Interview conducted by Carolina Garcia, Growth Lead at Tiggly