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Sherwood resident and former teacher Matthew Thornton has created an online math skills program.

PMG PHOTO: SCOTT KEITH - Matthew Thornton, Ardor Education's chief executive officer, previously taught at Sherwood Middle School.Parents, teachers and students can benefit from an online math tool created by a former Sherwood teacher. It's called Ardor Education, and it's designed to build students' confidence and skills in mathematics.

While the pandemic is keeping kids out of classrooms, Ardor Education is offering free online teaching and class management software.

Matthew Thornton, Ardor Education's chief executive officer, lives in Sherwood's Woodhaven neighborhood and taught math and science at Sherwood Middle School before he retired from teaching in 2015. He has also had experience teaching at rural and alternative schools.

"It was fantastic," he said of teaching middle school in Sherwood. "I had never been in a place that had such a supportive parent community and a really good teaching staff. I had never seen that before."

Thornton changed gears and became interested in the concept of an online learning tool well before the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I think from teaching in rural schools, and alternative schools, especially, it really highlighted a lot of inequities that existed in education," Thornton said. "I think we are seeing that even more highlighted now, since we have the virus. That's been a big driver for me."

Among the inequities Thornton speaks about: Poor schools often lack resources that Sherwood schools take for granted, while rural areas often struggle to attract teacher talent and have a difficult time retaining that talent.

About a decade ago, Thornton started toying with the idea of an online teaching tool after wanting to reach out to kids who may not have been able to access education very effectively.

The result is Ardor Education, which was a 2016 Oregon Entrepreneurs Network "Angel Oregon" finalist.

"There are really two pieces to it," Thornton said. "We have a math practice app for the students and then we have a, kind of, teacher gradebook."

Thornton continued, "What we do that's really different from, let's say a worksheet model, is we adapt to that student's readiness level. We're not going to throw fastballs and curveballs at a student. We're going to make it so that they can be consistent."

Thornton notes that Ardor constantly adjusts the difficulty of a math concept to match a student's readiness level.

"We get automatic feedback that happens in real time," he said. "The teacher will know exactly where every single student, in her or his classroom, is in real time."

The COVID-19 pandemic makes the online tool an option for those interested in beefing up their math skills.

"When the pandemic started to happen, we just realized, 'Oh wow, there's going to be a lot of schools that are not going to have the money, or the time, to make that transition'" to online teaching, Thornton remarked.

In explaining Ardor Education, Thornton said, "A teacher signs up for our program, and then they enroll students into their classrooms. The math is adapted to match that student learning level."

He added, "The teachers don't have to curate this, they don't have to grade it, they don't have to do any of it. They can focus on things they do really well, which is being a coach or a mentor."

Teachers can use Ardor Education's dashboard in a variety of ways.

"They also have a bunch of different reports that they can run," Thornton said. "They can create their own lessons. They can even make their own videos. It kind of allows them a way to facilitate remote learning, for sure, but also even in the future, kind of more of a hybrid approach."

For instance, a student missing a class would be able to catch up by viewing a video.

According to Thornton, thousands of teachers and tens of thousands of students have taken part in Ardor Education throughout the United States. He is looking to branch out internationally as well.

While teachers sign up for Ardor Education, students need to create a student account. A parent portal, for parents to sign up their daughters or sons, is in the works.

More information on Ardor Education can be found at ardoreducation.com.

Thornton believes that as soon as the pandemic subsides and we return to more of a "normal," online teaching tools may continue to be important.

"Beyond the pandemic, these kind of digital learning tools will provide a huge value for teachers, students and parents," Thornton said.

Thornton has been very busy with Ardor Education, but he loves to be able to provide this online teaching tool.

"It feels really good to still be helping teachers," he said.


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