Five-year-olds count change at a make-believe restaurant, match identical objects on IBM computers and use games to solve complex math problems.
During two half-day sessions in the lower level of WindsorFarm Elementary in Annapolis, Kay Johnson busily creates a colorful world of mathematical excitement. After 22 years of teaching kindergarten students to enjoy math, her work has not gone unnoticed; she wasrecognized Nov. 1 as the Elementary Math Teacher of the Year by the Maryland Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
Johnson was chosen over two other finalists, both fourth-grade teachers from Montgomery County. She didn't know she'd won, however, until the Nov. 1 banquet.
"They announced Kathleen B. Johnson, and everyone calls me Kay," Johnson said in her expressive kindergarten-teacher voice. "It took a minute to sink in.
"The award means recognition for my hard work. It means that people observing me are able tosee that I'm helping to make children successful. Truly, that is my job. What a wonderful shot in the arm."
Patricia Baltzley, president of the math council, says Johnson is the only county teacher to behonored and the first kindergarten teacher ever recognized by the group.
She praised Johnson's efforts to incorporate the goals of theMaryland School Performance Program into her teaching, even at the kindergarten level.
In class, 5-year-olds Nevalee Hedges and C. J. Hodges wonder what the fuss is all about. Aren't all kindergartners excited about math?
But despite the edge that these students have in the state-of-the-art elementary school -- with a 32-bay computer room and a computer in each class -- much of what Johnson emphasizes comes from play with simple blocks and toys.
Nevalee, for instance, discovers a pattern in the red and yellow plastic links she has been playing with.
"Look, Mrs. Johnson, a pattern," she says with wide eyes.
Johnson challenges her to look around the decorated classroom for other patterns. They clap to sound out the pattern. Nevalee is rewarded with a hug and told she is smart.
Meanwhile, C. J. has lined red, yellow and green plastic bears on a square of carpet. Johnson encourages him to explain what kinds of comparisons he sees.
"The green bears and the yellow ones are equal, I can count them one-to-one, one-to-one," C. J. says.
"You're being creative, you're beingoriginal," Johnson says to C. J. "I can tell you're really thinking."
Throughout the classroom, math skills are reinforced in every subject. The housekeeping area has been designed to resemble a restaurant with candles and linen napkins. Students take turns pretending to be a cook, waitress and customers choosing from the menu designed from the four food groups. Others take reservations.
In every corner of the spacious room, there is something to be counted, matched or paired. During designated periods, students roam activity stations, putting together puzzles that require counting backward or finding 50 yellow plastic numbers and placing them in proper sequence on a board.
Other students use calendars or try baking, counting and eating their discoveries.
"Students learn by touching," Johnson said. "Their tool is play and my job is to make it so interesting that they willwant to do it. They have to touch it, see it, smell it and taste it."