Math program adds up to family activity in polishing skills ELLICOTT CITY/ELKRIDGE

February 08, 1993|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Staff Writer

Frowning in concentration, 8-year-old Meghan Shaw arranged a pile of paper dominoes into orderly rows. The Elkridge girl was not playing; she was adding and subtracting.

"I never did math like this," said Meghan's mother, Valerie Shaw, as she peered over her daughter's shoulder. "She has a lot on me as far as creativity."

The Shaws were among 180 parents and students who volunteered to solve math problems one recent evening at Elkridge Elementary. The workshop, called Third Grade Family Math, is one of a series of meetings at which parents and students work together to brush up on math, reading and writing.

"Math isn't just calculations," Principal Mary Jane Mitchell said. "It's problem-solving. It's a lot of different things."

Thanks to word-of-mouth praise, the workshop series has attracted a growing number of parents during the past three years, Ms. Mitchell said.

"Because we've done it in the past, parents have heard about it and like what we've done," she said.

Family Math originated in California as "a way for a student and parent to work together without having to come to an exact number," said Rae Ellen Levene, coordinator of Chapter One/Early Childhood.

The program's philosophy is that math is creative, open-ended and a part of everyday life.

One segment focuses on estimates, in which parents and students learn that they estimate every day.

"It's a new kind of math for parents," Ms. Levene said. "They're working with other families. It's very, very positive. Parents and students leave with a feeling of working together."

Parent Dave Bravo, who learned some of the Family Math techniques as a boy, said he welcomed its return. "This is a lot more practical math," said Mr. Bravo, who attended the workshop with his 8-year-old son, Brian. "It's using math in a problem-solving way when you're in the real world."

Eleven elementary schools in Howard County offer Family Math, which is funded by the federal government. Although Elkridge Elementary no longer receives federal funds for the program, it continues to host Family Math for parents and students, as well as workshops in reading and writing.

Some workshops are for adults only. Fifth Grade Family Life, for example, is for parents who want to discuss sex with their children.

To encourage parents and children to attend the evening sessions at Elkridge Elementary, students are offered a get-out-of-homework pass, redeemable at any time.

During Third Grade Family Math, parents huddled over child-sized desks, encouraging their sons and daughters to figure out answers using pocket calculators, paper dominoes and decks of cards.

Participants were allowed to attend three workshops out of a total of five, which included "Estimation & Calculators," "Domino Math" and "Geometry and Spatial Thinking."

In "Estimation & Calculators," parents and students used pocket calculators to figure out how many seconds there are in a day and how many commercial messages the average American sees in one day.

"Mathematics isn't the same as arithmetic," said John Van Oosten, a third-grade teacher in charge of the evening's event. "Arithmetic is simply computation -- addition, subtraction, multiplication and division."

Throughout the evening, parents were urged to allow their children to use calculators and other high-tech equipment to do their math homework.

Students "must become proficient with today's technology, and the calculator is one of them," said third-grade teacher Mary Shiflet, who was teaching "Cut the Decks -- Deal the Facts."

Using the card game "War" as a model, Ms. Shiflet showed parents and students how to practice addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

"Any card game is going to reinforce numbers strategy," said Ms. Shiflet, who also showed parents and children shortcuts to learning the multiplication table.

"The real importance is for math to be fun and hopefully, for parents and children to enjoy each other," Ms. Shiflet said.

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