Day school's students take math into own hands
By Paul Haist
article created on:
The teaching of mathematics in our elementary schools has gone through many changes over the decades.
Educators are always looking for more effective ways to transmit the fundamental concepts that underlie the manipulation of numbers.
When many of today's adults were young learners, the teaching of basic arithmetic relied on a mostly inflexible system in which one had to keep up or possibly forever lag behind.
Not so today.
The teaching of arithmetic principles at Maimonides Jewish Day School, for example, demonstrates a new approach that allows students to advance at a pace that matches their ability and minimizes the risk of their being left behind and never learning some important fundamentals.
Trish Jenkins teaches kindergarten and first grade at Maimonides. Each of her students has a contract for learning a small set of arithmetic principles.
Each contract includes packets of things. It's a hands-on contract and a hands-on learning experience.
For example, one packet in one contract contains five red beans. The student works on assembling the beans in various combinations of 5: 2+3, 4+1, 5+0.
"They physically understand what they are doing through hands-on manipulation," said Jenkins.
The individual contracts allow each student to work at their own pace and not move on to another packet until they are ready.
School Director Devorah Wilhelm summed up the concept.
"The class caters to the gifted, the average and the ones who may have difficulty," she said.
When Jenkins' students move up to the second and third grades, her colleague Julie Kessluk builds on the concepts taught by Jenkins.
"We're working on area and perimeter now," said Kessluk. "They're taking the basic concepts and computations and applying them to real-world situations," which she said helps to develop critical thinking, a skill that state testing of students attempts to assess.
At this stage, the teaching of arithmetic transcends mere numbers and becomes important in the development of sophisticated thought processes.
"They (the state testers) want to see the processes (employed by the child)," she said.
So at Maimonides they make sure the child has the opportunity to really understand the processes.
"We've looked at the whole child," said Wilhelm.
"The individual contracts allow the children to work at their individual level," said Kessluk. "When they are ready to move on, they can."