New community TV program uses flashcards to help kids learn

Mitchell Mark is a former third grade teacher. He is also a former software designer.

He now combines skills from those former occupations in his quest to help children learn more effectively.

Mark is the producer and host of “Know Your Facts,” an infomercial of sorts that demonstrates a step-by-step procedure for using flashcards and other study tools on a variety of subjects.

The show concludes with Video Flashcards, a new way to learn facts. It combines Baroque music with a graphic presentation of each fact in order to make it more memorable for observers.

The Santa Cruz-based program, which is geared toward children ages 7 to 12, can be seen locally on AT&T Cable, channel 29 and 76, on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. and Sundays at 6 p.m.

“Most people don’t know how to use flashcards,” Mark said in a phone interview from California.

Parents often make two mistakes that prevent them from being successful, he noted, including overwhelming the child with too many cards and, in the case of math, allowing their child or children to simply count, which takes away the benefits of working with flashcards.

“Know Your Facts” shows parents a three-step approach to using flashcards: 1) the creation of a supportive and encouraging environment, 2) engaging several senses when presenting the question and 3) providing helpful feedback.

Mark has been working with students, teachers and parents for 22 years.

“I’ve spent 10 years developing educational software,” he said.

That includes computer-assisted instructional systems for schools and one-on-one use, as well as designing new flashcard with pictures of dice, called SmartCards.

SmartCards are the result of using dice while working with students to help them understand numbers. Using dice helped the students to figure out the answer instead of counting.

They were able to learn the facts, and recall the answers more easily the next time they saw the question.

The three-step method, combined with SmartCards, has been very effective in helping children to master math facts, Mark said.

Still, he contends that parental involvement is the most important ingredient in student learning.

“It’s great software, but without parents it doesn’t work,” he said.

The response to the program has been favorable, Mark said, with area educators generously donating their time to the program.

“This program is a wonderful way for parents to learn ways to practice with their children,” said Debbie Smith, a teacher at DeLaveaga Elementary School in Santa Cruz, Calif.

Mark agreed: “It makes a better experience for parents and children.”

Future plans for the show include a name change early next year to “Practice Makes Better,” he said, which better reflects the content of the program. (The Website will change also.)

Mark said he didn’t go with a title based on the familiar saying, “Practice makes perfect” because no matter how much anyone practices anything, they will never be perfect.

Also, there will be more shows shot on the road, Mark noted, including a stop in Tacoma next year, from noon to 4 p.m., on Monday, Jan. 20, at School Daze, 3630 S. Cedar.

Those who show up will receive a free CD-ROM entitled “How to Help Your Children Practice.”

Mark is currently working on a book, “Five Minutes at the Kitchen Table: Ways to Help Kids Learn Math Facts,” which is slated for release in April.

He lives in Santa Cruz with his wife, Minh, and their two children, Jonathan, 19, and Sarah, 17.