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South Valley Journal

Math games multiply math gains

May 02, 2022 07:55PM ● By Jet Burnham

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

Positive COVID-19 cases have had a negative effect on math skills. The online lessons of 2020 that prevented hands-on and interactive activities, and the frequent shut-downs and absences that interrupted lessons in 2021, were especially disruptive to the students trying to master basic math facts.

Typically, third graders memorize multiplication tables the last few months of the school year. A large portion of third graders in 2020 missed out on that skills practice.

“We're seeing the side effects of that this year, more than I've ever seen it,” said fifth grade math specialist Amy Barlow, whose students are still struggling with multiplication tables two years later.

Barlow teaches at charter school Summit Academy Bluffdale, where they provide daily math interventions. But SAB teachers believe students need math support at home, as well.

SAB Principal Diana Brantley said that while parents know the importance of reading to their children and encouraging their literacy skills development, many don’t know the importance of incorporating math learning into their children’s lives.

Melanie Otvos had a negative math experience as a child and struggled to help her kids with their math homework. When she began working as an intervention coach at SAB, she realized how important early exposure to math is for kids.

She began talking about math at home, especially with her preschooler. For example, she asked her how to evenly share six cookies among three people.

“The way that I'm parenting my 4-year-old is vastly different,” she said. “I look for everyday opportunities where I can use math in what we're doing.”

To help parents support their children’s math skills development, SAB hosted a Math Night at the end of March. Families learned to play 20 different math games provided by Mathnasium. All the games use simple materials—dice, post-it notes, candies, sticks, dominoes—and can be adjusted to any age or skill level.

“The families will take home all of the games and that will give them the opportunity to replicate that at home and do a little more playing around and having fun with math,” Brantley said.

Sarah Croff, a parent volunteer, helped teach families to play one of the games at Math Night. She said it was fun to see kids get excited about math.

“They find the fun in it and they often don’t realize they are doing math,” she said.

SAB fourth grade teacher Mariah Curtis encourages her students to involve their parents in their math homework by having them show their parents how they solved the problem.

She said the games provided at Math Night will also “invite the conversations that create learning.”

Math was the focus throughout the month of March at SAB.

Third, fourth, fifth and sixth graders competed in a Math Bowl competition.

It was an opportunity for students to showcase their math skills. The competition was also a great motivator.

“For a lot of students, it gives them the drive they lack in day to day class,” Curtis said.

The sixth graders also celebrated Pi Day (3.14) on March 14.

“Math doesn't get a lot of positive publicity, so I have to use every chance I can get to show why math is great,” sixth grade teacher Jennifer Johnson said.

Although pi is actually a seventh grade standard, Johnson introduced it to her students to get them comfortable with seeing symbols and complex decimals. Students watched an entertaining cartoon explaining how pi is calculated and then practiced using it in a fun activity. But the highlight of the lesson was when the students got to eat pie. Parents donated over 40 pies for the 53 sixth-graders and their teachers.