JiJi is not just your typical gender-neutral, technological penguin. JiJi's a special bird who serves as the face of the MIND Research Institute's ST Math program. And this fall, the penguin and the software became integrated into Colorado Springs School District 11's elementary education curriculum.
"What ST Math does," says Devra Ashby, D-11's public information officer, "is that it explains without words why two plus two equals four."
The young program, which has shown promising early results in schools scattered around the nation, is now available to all D-11 elementary students. But given its approach — wherein JiJi helps students learn and understand mathematic concepts through visual prompts and feedback — it may be especially effective for some kids who receive special education.
In a presentation available on YouTube, institute co-founder Matthew Peterson says he started this work because he has dyslexia and wanted to figure out how to better teach students like him, for whom "words were really big learning barriers."
One such boy was autistic. "Omar had such difficulty with language that he only spoke in single words," Peterson says. "Never in full sentences. Not even to his parents.
"And when Omar's school started using our program, his teachers were astonished at how gifted Omar was in math. They never knew. But more amazingly, Omar started talking. And the first full sentences he ever spoke, were about these mathematical ideas he was experiencing in these visual games."
Andrew Coulson, president of the education division for the Santa Ana, Calif.-based nonprofit institute, tells the Indy he believes there's an untapped ability in kids to solve problems using spatial temporal (ST) reasoning — the kind of reasoning used when, say, putting together a puzzle.
"When solving a math problem, instead of learning lots of new words, students could see same math concepts like an animated visual diagram, and they can solve problems by manipulating the diagram," Coulson says. "If you can learn math without complicated symbols up front, why not do it?"