Mastering concepts in math

August 14, 1994|By JoAnne C. Broadwater | JoAnne C. Broadwater,Special to The Sun

After tracing the outline of his hand onto a picture filled with a repeating pattern of frogs, 8-year-old Jonathan Grazaitis began to count just how many of the little amphibians it took to fill the outline.

Earlier that evening, the North Harford Elementary youngster and dozens of other second- and third-graders from 11 Harford County schools arranged and rearranged multicolored tiles in a variety of shapes to design their own repeating patterns.

"I'm so good," Jonathan said, adding and subtracting with a handful of colored blocks of varying lengths called rods.

"I love this," said his mother, Rosemarie Grazaitis, of Street. "I'm hoping that the rods will really help him and he'll pick up in his math very quickly."

With the help of their parents, the children experimented with a variety of "manipulative" learning tools during the three-session Summer Math Academy at Hall's Cross Roads Elementary School in Aberdeen last week.

"This is awesome," said Tyra Easterling, of Darlington, whose 8-year-old son, Aaron Garrison, attends Dublin Elementary School. "If I would have had those rods I would have been an A student in math."

"I think it will make learning much easier for her," said Tom Green, of Joppatowne, as he watched his granddaughter, 7-year-old Morgan Davis, do subtraction with the colorful rods.

The workshop was a hands-on event without any of the fill-in-the-blanks or handouts often associated with math programs. Instead, participants explored the abstract mathematical concepts of area, fractions, addition and subtraction by manipulating shapes into assorted configurations, observing the differences between shapes and building equations with rods of varying lengths.

"This allows them to discover things for themselves," said Amy Sellars, one of the workshop leaders. "Children are marvelous at figuring things out. We want to help them learn how to think mathematically, how to think for themselves."

The workshop was conducted by Water Street Mathematics, a Yorklyn, Del., company that provides educational services and materials.

"Can you see how it's a game with them because they're in control of the numbers?" James King, Water Street's president, asked the parents at the Aberdeen workshop.

"Mathematics is a game of the mind," he said. "We want to show parents what their children can do when they're at the wheel. Math is a wonderful subject and it can be fun. And the use of physical models . . . gives children a better chance at understanding math, not just now, but forever."

Mr. King, a consultant, worked with 1,200 students in 42 Harford classrooms during the last school year under the federally financed Chapter 1 program, which provides supplemental education for disadvantaged children. He invited the students and their parents to attend the two parent-child workshops he conducted this month in Havre de Grace and Aberdeen. About 40 students and their parents participated in the workshops, he said.

"I'm really impressed," said Diane Michalski, of Havre de Grace, whose 7-year-old son, Jeffrey, is a second-grader at Meadowvale Elementary School. "When I was in school, math was all memorization. This is so much better, because they can visualize it."

Andrea Allen, whose son Benjamin also is a Meadowvale Elementary student, agreed. "It's something visual you can actually touch and math becomes real. I think it [the workshop] has been really good."

Pat Skebeck, principal of Hall's Cross Roads Elementary, said she is pleased that the parents made time for the workshop.

"One of our national goals is parent involvement," Mrs. Skebeck said. "Kids and parents walk out of here talking math and come in here talking math. This was fun."

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