The Way These Students Figure It, This Math's More Fun

Children Use Yarn To Find Their Height

February 05, 1992|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Staff writer

If you had a piece of yarn the circumference of your head, could youestimate how many pieces of the same length it would take to measurehow tall you are?

Sure you could, if you were one of the 60 second- and third-graders and parents or grandparents, aunts or uncles whospent the last three Thursday nights in "Family Math" at Elkridge Elementary School.

In "Family Math," you learn things like how tall you are in yarn and what your name would cost if each letter in it had a dollar valueand how you can move three toothpicks in an eight-toothpick fish to make the fish swim in the opposite direction.

Teachers Amy Tieperman and Pat Whittier hope the family programs will show children how to use mathematics and will get parents involved.

"We hope that parents will incorporate math (at home) as kind of an everyday activity," says Tieperman.

"It's also to educate parents in how math is taught now," says Whittier.

"We have to do, 'OK, Moms and Dads, what answer did you get?' " Tieperman says. "It's not just sit and watch your child figure this out."

Whittier and Tieperman offered the evening math sessions last year to schools where they work as Chapter I teachers. They were hired under the federal program that provides services and additional instructional assistants for students with problems in reading or math. Fourteen county schools qualify for Chapter Iaid, which is given to schools where the number of students eligiblefor free or reduced-price lunches is higher than the county average.

"Family Math" is open to all second- and third-graders in the schools that offer the evening program. In the first year, programs wereconducted at Phelps Luck, Laurel Woods, Deep Run and Bollman Bridge elementary schools. This year, the programs will be at Lisbon, Elkridge and Deep Run.

The program is designed for six weeks of evening sessions, but Whittier and Tieperman decided that three weeks was themaximum commitment they could ask of parents and children.

AshleyMerson, 7, a second-grader at Elkridge Elementary, started the evening program unenthusiastic about math. In fact, her mother, Cheryl Merson, said she signed up hoping to find a "fun way to do math" becauseneither mother nor daughter particularly likes the subject.

Aftertwo successful moves on a game called "Calculator Paths," a variation on Chinese checkers in which players move across the board by finding the answers to addition and subtraction problems, Ashley was jumping up and down in her seat, announcing, "I won! I won!"

"You haven't won yet," her mother reminded her, scoring a successful move of her own.

By the middle of the last session, Ashley pronounced the program "funner than regular school."

For Bobby McMenamin, however, math remains "boring and hard." Bobby, 7, a second-grader, likes riding diesel locomotives and says he'd like to ride a space shuttle nextsummer.

His father, Dennis McMenamin, who took advanced math courses in his college days as an engineering student, says he tries to work math into Bobby's everyday life. When they go to McDonald's and the bill is $4.60, it's Bobby's job to figure out how much change theywill get from a $5 bill.

But when the students are asked to guess, for example, how many times a day the average person blinks, Bobby goes with a creative thinker's response: "One thousand, five million and six."

During the second session, Whittier takes parents aside to talk about how math is taught differently now than it was a generation ago. They discuss the "guess-and-check method," in which children are taught to estimate an answer, then check it against the answer they get when they work the problem with paper and pencil or on a calculator.

James Powell ended up scratching his head. "I don't understand all this modern math," said the Burtonsville resident, who brought his grandson. Powell said he always did arithmetic in his head, but added, "I guess it's good for the kids, though."

Grandson Mark Evans Jr., 7, a second-grader from Elkridge, liked "the working stuff" in "Family Math," games that required him to think and gave him a chance to match wits with grandpa.

The teachers included several activities that required participants to guess how many pieces of candyor how many paper clips were in a jar, but they did not teach techniques of estimation.

"Initially, estimates can be very bizarre, particularly with children," Whittier says. By repeating exercises each week, teachers hoped to show students how to make estimates more accurate.

As parents and children work together, "parents get to sharesome of the strategies they've been taught or have learned over the years," she says. That, too, is part of the purpose -- parents and children working together.

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