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By Sheena Dooley
Tolbert: Said program builds on other areas
Smith: Method ‘makes them own their learning’
Marchand: Said students become better thinkers
Using a page filled with dots, squares and triangles, fourth- and fifth-graders at Village Elementary are learning how to master math.
Students record in journals math problems, their answers and an explanation of why the answer is correct. The dots and shapes turn into problems involving such things as fractions and aid them in learning the basic concepts of math.
“It makes them own their learning and puts it back on them, where it should be,” said Julie Smith, a fifth-grade teacher at Village.
Fourth-grade teachers last school year implemented Rigorous Mathematical Thinking in their classrooms to combat lagging scores on state standardized tests. The teaching method prompts students to solve math problems and provide the thinking process they used to get their answers.
The Indiana Department of Education judges whether schools are doing an adequate job in the classroom based on results from the standardized tests. For the last two years, Village has failed to meet state targets and is in Year 3 of school improvement. With each year it stays on the state’s list, the school faces consequences that become more severe and range from providing free tutoring to replacing staff and restructuring the school.
Administrators and teachers hope the new teaching method will help students make enough gains to meet state targets as they expand it into other grades. Last year, fourth-grade teachers were the first to implement it in their classrooms. In one year, those teachers saw an 18 percent increase in the number of fourth-graders passing the state math test.
“We are seeing gains in not only math, but it’s also stemming into other areas,” Smith said. “These kids are actually thinkers.”
This year, the fourth-grade teachers made the move into fifth grade with their students from last year. The new fourth-grade teachers received training and introduced Rigorous Mathematical Thinking to their students. Juanita Tolbert, Village principal, said she plans to add a grade each year until every teacher is using the method in the classroom.
“It builds an academic base and is building on academic programs to really take (students) to the top,” Tolbert said.
Michelle Marchand, a fifth-grade teacher at Village, and Smith said the teaching strategy works because, instead of teachers providing them with ways to get the answers, students have to find them themselves. That causes them to become better thinkers, while mastering the basic concepts of math to the point they become second nature, the teachers said.
As the two further integrate the teaching method, they have seen it strengthen student achievement in other areas. Marchand said her students’ vocabulary has expanded rapidly this year, with fifth-graders using phrases such as “logical evidence” and “critical attributes” on a regular basis.
“As a teacher, it’s challenging,” Marchand said.
“It’s not one of those things you can tell them; it
has to be pulled from them.”
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