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MUSCATINE — When it comes to favorite math techniques, Estella Perales, a fifth grader at Mulberry Elementary, said her favorite is the 11s trick.

It's a way of quickly multiplying large numbers by 11. Staring off into space, Perales explained how she would approach multiplying 48 with 11.

First, split 48 into a 4 and an 8 and add them together. That makes 12. Then put the 2 from the 12 between the 4 and the 8. And then take the 1 from the 12 and add it to the number on the left side, the 4. And like a spark, Perales comes back from her calculations: "So you will get 528," she said. 

In April, Perales and her teammates Kate Olsen and Mathew Spies won the CountFast math competition. CountFast is a program the district has been prototyping on its fifth graders to teach mental math techniques, like the 11s trick, and increase engagement with mathematics among students. 

Perales is in the Gifted and Talented program at Mulberry. She said CountFast was giving her the extra challenge she needs to stay engaged at school.

"Being a little ahead of my grade has made me want to be challenged more and want everything I can so that I can be the best that I can be," Perales said.

Estella's mother, Elinda Perales, said she is happy to see her daughter in a program that wants to engage students with mathematics. She works at Muscatine Community College and finds that students often have already had bad experiences with in math classes.

"I run into a lot of students at the college that come in and say, I hate math," Elinda Perales said. "So I try to reprogram to, just because you've had a bad math experience, doesn't mean you can't learn it. So that's something I tried to instill in my daughter since she was teeny-tiny."

She said she has been excited to see Estella and her friends engaged and excited about learning math. 

On Monday night, Dan Stein presented on his work implementing CountFast at Muscatine Schools. 

"If you look at the top scoring kids in math: Singapore, South Korea, India," Stein said.

It got him thinking about why that might be. He took stock and brought back to Muscatine some techniques and tools students were using to learn math in Asia. 

In November 2017, he had a 10-day trial where students from two fifth grade classes at Grant Elementary practiced the techniques for 15 minutes a day. There was a pretest and post-test and, in the end, he said the resulting data made him feel confident about trying something bigger. 

In Spring, all the fifth grade classes in Muscatine Schools did a three week program that culminated in the CountFast Competition. 

"These aren't new concepts or teaching methods. It's a supplemental curriculum," Stein said. "This isn't looking to replace the entire math curriculum, but its a supplement that can be used with the students."

At Monday's school board meeting, Stein said he aims to implement a grade-level specific CountFast supplement for first through fifth grade across the district. He said it would be a nine week program.

"Because this is still a test of a new concept, we really haven't proved the data in terms of performance," Stein said. "We are hopeful that if we go in this fall and get this in all the classrooms that we can hopefully see some kind of uptick on the math assessment portion of the Iowa Assessment. That's our goal."

Estella's teacher Lauren McDonald, said she has been excited about the engagement she has seen across student performance levels. 

"All students, not just our high-achieving math students seem to really grow with this program," McDonald said. "I saw a lot of confidence grow. They started to realize, 'Yes, I can do this.' The strategies were working and making sense to the students."

Estella said she is just happy to see math taken seriously.

"I'm just excited because math is really important," Estella Perales said. "And this is a fantastic way to get for us to be challenged."

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