February 28, 1994|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Sun Staff Writer

Learning math is elementary, as Lisbon Elementary School children have found out.

They spent an entire day last week playing with numbers, heart-shaped candy and pieces of bread to master math.

The goal: to lessen their fears and anxieties about the topic.

"There are so many kids who are afraid of math, who are math phobics," said third-grade teacher Lisa Larsson. "Even I was afraid of math when I was young.

"But everything [these students] do will involve math," she said. "I want these kids to realize this."

Learning math, as parents did it, has changed. Students now add, subtract and do long division in different ways. They'll use a cookie and break it apart to learn about fractions. They'll play with M&M candies and Chex cereal to master the concept of graphing.

"A lot of times, in years past, you thought of math as 'I'm going to get a work sheet and add and divide. I'm bored already and I haven't even sharpened my pencil yet,' " Mrs. Larsson said. "As long as you show how math relates to the real world and make it fun, students will look forward to math."

Students from kindergarten to fifth grade spent the day rotating among teachers to learn different facets of math. First-graders learned how to estimate by guessing how many candy hearts would fit into a drawing of a heart. They learned fractions by building a log cabin from cut slices of bread.

Mrs. Larsson, a teacher for three years, said she sees children get more interested in math when they apply it hands-on.

"Kids tend to catch on really fast, and they're more excited about math if they can see how they can apply it later on," she said.

Speakers from various professions -- including a banker, a scientist and an airline pilot -- also came to the school to talk about the importance of math in their lives.

Former Orioles pitcher Dave Johnson explained math in determining ERAs, wins and losses, strikes and walks.

"It's important you realize we just don't use math in school," he said, wearing an Orioles uniform shirt and blue jeans. "You're going to use it every day."

Florist Jane Cruz, surrounded by

vases, flowers and plant dishes, told third-graders how she uses math concepts to design bouquets and arrangements. Florists use asymmetrical shapes, as well as geometrical shapes such as circles and triangles, to start the delicate process of putting flowers in place.

Ms. Cruz said she uses math for everything from figuring the price of an arrangement to measuring a string of ribbon to make a bow. Yet, she's "about as far to a math person as you think," she said.

Students said they came to appreciate math after spending the day using it. Third-grader Ashley Marsh especially liked the presentation by Ms. Cruz, who works for Wilhide's Flowers at Savage Mill.

"I thought it was really neat, because she taught us how to do arrangements in a circle or in a triangle," she said. "I didn't know this, but you use math every day until you retire."

Ashley's friend, 9-year-old Sarah Black, gushed, "She had the most beautiful flowers I have ever seen."

Ross Jackson, another third-grader, has already decided how he'll use math in his life.

He plans to become a basketball player. He figures math will help him keep score.

"At first, I thought math was just for school," he said.