Friday, March 13, 2009
Fourth graders challenged by Math Depot
The Carlisle School fourth-grade team described an innovative math program to the Carlisle School Committee (CSC) at the March 4 meeting. Presenters included Special Educator Connie McGrath along with fourth-grade teachers Liz Gray, Ken Ashe and Jason Naroff. Gray explained that fourth-grade teacher Emily King was too near her due date to attend.
The fourth-grade math curriculum, called Everyday Math (or Chicago Math), does not have challenging word problems, explained Gray. In addition to the daily math units, the fourth grade team uses a once weekly supplemental math program they created called Math Depot to augment the Everyday Math program.
“A lot of our work involves integration of either multiple skills across the curriculum or integration of personnel across the school” such as Math Specialist Liz Perry, she explained. “Math Depot was a take off on Home Depot and we talked about the tools of problem solving and wore our hard hats and aprons. Now that the team has changed members we’re less interested in wearing hard hats and aprons but we are as equally interested in teaching problem solving.”
The students are being taught to solve complex word problems using a variety of strategies. The work could be considered “pre-algebra” and the goal is to teach students to follow the “problem solving blueprint” to arrive at the answers. Gray said the complex problems are done in school and are not usually homework, since parents may be tempted to help by using algebra to quickly find the solutions.
Gray gave each CSC member a word problem, along with the list of strategies: Guess and check, use manipulatives, act it out, draw a picture, make a list, diagram, or table, find a pattern, work backwards, use rectangles, or use logical reasoning (process of elimination). As the School Committee members attempted to solve their word problems, Gray passed out examples of ways students had used the strategies. “This is what makes us excited; they are not just plugging numbers into equations,” said Gray.
“These are harder than I expected,” noted Committee member Bill Fink. Gray agreed they are challenging. “Kids who can answer math questions quickly get frustrated,” she added. Working on the problems takes patience, stamina and logic, she explained.
(One example of a fourth-grade word problem: “A full propane gas tank weighs 32 pounds. After 3/4 of the gas is used up, the tank and the remaining gas weighs 14 lbs. What is the weight of the tank when empty?”)
Gray said the first question she asks her students is how many times they should reread the problem. Many answer “three” because the word “read” is written three times in the problem solving blueprint. She said they encourage the students to reread the problem “until they get it.”
“And the second question, Chad, is how do you know that you get it?” Gray asked.
Committee Chair Chad Koski answered, “You can restate it.”
“Oh, you are smart,” replied Gray. “You’ve had a fourth grader.”
Koski replied, “I’ve had three fourth graders.”
“What we are hoping,” explained Gray, is that students will use the strategies all the time, not just during Math Depot. “There has been a lot of success, but our expectations are that we want more kids on board.”
The fourth-grade team will be meeting during the summer to plan enhancements to the Math Depot program.
Committee member Louis Salemy observed, “I can understand why the kid’s MCAS scores are so high. They are challenged to think on their feet.” Gray agreed. “Our school has valued the thinking aspect of math. And it is more fun.”
“Chad did not show his work; is that a problem?” asked Superintendent Marie Doyle. “Yes,” Gray replied, though she was glad he underlined the important information. ∆
© 2009 The