By SUE SUCHYTA
TRENTON – Understanding math and recognizing multiple ways to solve problems may help Anderson Elementary students learn better over time than traditional procedural math and may even lead to them liking it.
Ann Deneroff, director of curriculum for Trenton Public Schools, said that after careful study, the district decided to adopt the “Everyday Mathematics” program developed by the University of Chicago School Mathematics Project and published by McGraw-Hill for kindergarten through fifth grade at Anderson and Hedke elementary schools. They plan to integrate it into the middle and high school curriculum.
Helping students develop a deeper understanding of math and its application to the real world – not just mastering and memorizing procedures – is a key element of sustained learning over time and lends itself to the way children learn and develop, Deneroff said.
Games, problem solving strategies, manipulative objects and a huge online component make a difference as well, she said.
“I think the biggest thing that we came away with when we did some visitations to (schools using) ‘Everyday Mathematics’ is it was very obvious that the students were enjoying math,” Deneroff said.
She said teaching children procedural math does not teach them how to apply it to solve problems.
“When you get into complicated problems or application problems, you are lost, because you only know procedures,” Deneroff said. “So (with) ‘Everyday Mathematics’ you are also getting at understanding mathematics and why you do things and recognizing that there are multiple ways to solve a problem, and it is thinking about math instead of just doing math.”
Anderson first-grade teacher Lorie Kryk said she tries to utilize all the different learning styles to help engage every child in her classroom, which can be challenging but worthwhile during a lesson.
“I think it reaches more students when you are able to add in the physical aspect as well as other aspects,” she said.
She uses geoboards — pegboards with rubber bands stretched across them to form geometric shapes — pattern blocks and base 10 blocks, manipulative counting tools used to teach concepts like place value, addition and subtraction.
“Our new math program allows us to explore all of these different math tools to get comfortable with them, to see how we can use them in math,” Kryk said.
She said her first-graders also like to work with classmate partners or “math buddies” to take their learning to the next level.
First-grader Chloe Taylor, 6, likes making shapes and patterns on the geoboards, while classmate Alex Patterson, 6, likes to learn to count by marching.
Hailey Dowd, 5, said she has fun with the manipulative base 10 blocks, which she calls “yellow cakes” because they look like unfrosted sheet cakes.
Jona Zimbalatti, 6, likes to play math games like the “bunny hop,” which uses a number line to teach addition and subtraction.
“We roll a dice and we count the bunny hop spaces, and whoever gets back to the hole (first) then they win,” Zimbalatti said.
Kryk said an advantage of the games and other manipulative tools is that as the school year progresses, the activities reinforce skill sets the children learned earlier.
“The great thing is they are able to have responsibility and ownership of what they are choosing,” Kryk said. “It allows me to also have time to work with small groups for guided math while they are being productive and responsible on their own playing and practicing their math skills.”
Fifth-grade math teacher Kellie Teska’s students also work in pairs. She said it helps them learn when they explain math concepts to each other on their own level.
“I am an adult, trained to bring it down, and so I think when they work with a partner it helps them to explain it in a way that makes sense to them,” Teska said. “Isn’t that one of the points to learning? If you can teach it, you really know it really well.”
She said the program does a good job of making math interesting with built-in components that include partner work, games to reinforce skills they have learned, and an online component.
Teska said the program has several key advantages over their past math curriculum.
“I think it is going to make learning math more fun,” Teska said, “and, more importantly, I think it is going to give them a better knowledge base of what they are actually doing, to figure out a problem, rather than just following the directions of how to do a traditional algorithm.”
Fifth-grader Libby Doree, 10, said she enjoys the new program and likes the math games they play, including “top-it,” an addition game like “war” that builds fluency in adding sums up to 30, and “factor captor” that teaches factoring numbers in a competitive framework.
“It’s a lot easier than last year, and it is a lot more organized,” Doree said.
Brooke Cline, 10, said she likes that the math games reinforce what they have just learned, and how they learn different ways to approach a math problem.
“I like how they changed it up so we can do more things to make our brains smarter,” Cline said.
Franklyn Woody, 11, said the new program has improved his math grade and makes him more eager to learn math.
Steven Zanetti, 10, said he likes the game aspect of the new program and the detail used to explain new concepts.
“It’s a lot more fun, because you’re not getting like a million math problems,” Zanetti said. “They explain why you do it, so I can understand the problems better.”
Anderson Principal Douglas Mentzer thinks there is a great amount of relevancy in the new math program.
“I think any time a student can apply their knowledge base to the curriculum at hand it makes it easier for them to learn,” Mentzer said.
Mentzer said the games increase student enthusiasm and energy for learning, and the new program is a good fit for children who struggled with math in the past.
“I think that math can be very abstract at times,” Mentzer said. “If you teach things in this bowl and the bowl isn’t appealing, then kids don’t dive into it. I think that is the key to learning across the board. Learning has to be fun – I don’t care what age.”
Deneroff said ongoing teacher training is a key component of the program’s success.
Mentzer said the program also gives teachers insight into a student’s thought process, and enables them to give actionable feedback.
“The old way, we’d mark that wrong, in red, and the student would have no feedback as to why they got that wrong,” Mentzer said. “Another great benefit inherent in how this program works is the teacher can really prescribe where the errors are occurring, and why they are occurring, and that’s huge.”