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South Valley Journal

Yes, they changed math: Rose Creek Elementary math night teaches parents a lesson

Apr 01, 2019 05:06PM ● By Justin Adams

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

Homework can be frustrating for parents who didn’t learn math the same way their kids are being taught. Teachers at Rose Creek Elementary invited parents to Math Night, held Feb. 21, to familiarize them with how students are learning to approach math.

“Our main purpose was to teach the families and parents to show them how we’re teaching math now,” said Britta Nunley, a special education teacher.

Rose Creek uses CMI, Comprehensive Mathematics Instruction, as its instructional framework. With CMI, students learn multiple ways to solve math problems. This can be frustrating for parents who learned just one way to find the answer.

“We get a lot of pushback because it does take a lot more effort and time, and the parents have never learned it,” said fourth-grade teacher Jessica Clayton. “Because they don’t understand it, they don’t know how to help their kids, and then everyone’s frustrated.”

Often, students will turn in homework completed in the way their parents showed them how to do it, which is the standard algorithm (following a set of steps).

“Ninety-nine percent of the time, they don’t understand why it works,” said Clayton.

“We do teach the standard algorithm, but that’s the last step we do,” said Nunley. “We don’t want the kids to use the standard algorithm unless they understand why it works. We do a lot of models, a lot of manipulatives and drawing the model to solve so they understand how it’s working instead of going through the rote process.”

At math night, each grade level provided an activity to engage parents in new ways of looking at math.

Fourth-grade teachers asked parents to solve a division story problem using two different strategies. Most could easily solve it using the standard algorithm they’d learned—plugging numbers into a long division equation.

“Most of them just sat there and didn’t know what to do after that because they’d never solved a division problem in a different way,” said Clayton. Teachers prompted them to try drawing a picture or to separate the ones, tens and hundreds or to work it in reverse with multiplication.

Clayton found parents were willing to try new ideas when they saw the connection between the picture and the strategies they were familiar with.

“It was nice to see how the new math is being taught and how they visualize things, and then it helps them understand the concepts better,” said Preston Pearson, a parent.

With CMI, students learn many different strategies so they find the one that makes the most sense to them. Families explored the concept of fractions using the graph paper, math tiles, construction paper, scissors and pencils the third-grade team provided. For fifth-grade math, they used blocks and marbles for hands-on, visual ways to solve complex problems.

The feedback from parents and teachers was positive.

“We felt like this really helped parents see exactly what their child is learning and how we teach it so they can help them at home and understand themselves how to better work through various problems with their children,” said third-grade teacher Krystal Parker.

Kristina Gowen has three students to help with their homework.

“I appreciated just learning the terminology the teachers were using so when [my kids] are at home, I can use that same terminology to work with them,” she said.

Because CMI encourages discovery, Parker tells parents to let their kids struggle a bit before they step in to help them.

“Part of learning new concepts is trial and error and failure along the way before you can really grasp it,” she said. “Allowing a safe space for students to make mistakes is very important to their learning.”

Nunley uses questions to prompt her students to figure out their errors for themselves. When a student gets a different answer, there is a class discussion.

“With CMI, kids can explain their thinking,” Clayton said. “They know what they’re doing; they understand why it works.” 

Many parents were taught how to solve a problem and don’t know why it works. Many don’t understand why they “carry the one” in an addition, which really is a ten, not a one, said Clayton. With CMI, students can use blocks representing tens and ones to see how and why they are regrouping the values.

Clayton believes students who struggle with math benefit from seeing math in a different way and finding a strategy that makes sense to them.

“I don’t think kids just hate math because they’re bad at it,” said Clayton. “I think they hate math because they don’t understand it.”

Principal Tami Bird, who was previously a district math specialist, introduced Rose Creek teachers to CMI a few years ago. It took two years of professional development instruction for them to fully incorporate the concepts into their curriculum.

“There is a global body of research that supports the work being done at Rose Creek,” said Bird.

Clayton can’t imagine teaching math any other way.

“I have seen a huge difference in the kids, in their confidence and their abilities,” she said. “If the kid is allowed to figure it out on their own at first and then have some support and help, they just fly.”