Pupils in Kristen Duracka's third-grade class spent the first part of their math lesson on a traditional exercise: With a goal of finding ways to make 20, some students wrote number sentences - such as 10+10 - while others drew 20 tally marks or dots.
Later, the Riverside Elementary School pupils split into groups to play "Name That Number," a game in which the children use a deck of number cards to work on addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.
Both activities are part of a new math program introduced this year in the county's elementary schools that combines traditional pencil and paper problem-solving methods and hands-on activities.
Called Everyday Mathematics, the program includes real-life problem-solving activities, small- and large-group instruction, and multiple methods teachers can use for basic skills instruction. Teachers say they think the new system will help build pupils' enthusiasm for math.
"I think this program makes math so much fun for the students that we're going to find that they become better at doing math," said Brian Smith, who teaches fourth grade at Riverside Elementary.
The pilot for the program began in county schools about three years ago after a committee of math specialists and teachers selected it as one of three math programs to test.
Among the features of Everyday Mathematics that appealed to the committee is that MSA scores improved at some pilot schools. And teachers favored the array of instruction options available, said Sarah Morris, the county's supervisor of mathematics.
"One of the beauties of this program is that it helps the children apply math to multiple situations," said Morris. "And it's adapted to multiple levels of learning. The teachers are finding that this makes it easier to reach more students."
There also is more focus on reinforcing concepts and skills from the previous years, while moving on to tackle new material, said Duracka.
"Children don't usually learn a new concept on the first attempt," she said. "In this math program, the teachers go back and add on to the skills the students learned the year before. We continue to build or develop the skills year after year until they become `secure' skills."
The program gives teachers options for teaching basic concepts, Smith said.
"Every child can learn to multiply, but maybe not the same way," said Smith, who is starting his second year teaching.
Some pupils say they like the program, too, including 9-year-old Aaron O'Dell.
"I like being able to do more than just write numbers and figure out the answers to the math problems," he said. "I think I'm going to do very good in math this year and have fun doing it."
That's the plan, said Terri Dunnigan, a fifth-grade teacher at Emmorton Elementary who piloted the program.
"I am already noticing that this program is creating better program-solvers," Dunnigan said. "And the kids are having more fun and seem less confused when they are learning new concepts."
In a recent lesson, Dunnigan gave her pupils a problem written in reverse, such as "_ = 5+3."
"The students see the problem and tell me there's no way to do it," Dunnigan said. "But the new math program changes how children think about math, and builds on that to help them understand there's more than one way to do things."
Creighton Leizear, the principal at Riverside, said the hands-on activities used in the program are key to making math more understandable for the pupils.
"The kids use ... games to learn, rather than just paper-and-pencil activities," said Leizear, who is in his fourth year as principal of the school. "This gives the children a visual to see what it looks like to add and see what math means."
The school hosted a math night to introduce the program to parents. Parents and their children visited stations set up throughout the school to do activities.
"Because the program uses hands-on activities and games, the children were able to be the teachers and the parents were the students," Leizear said. "The students explained to their parents how to play a game or do an activity. The parents seemed to really enjoy that."
Also, the program offers a greater opportunity to include special education pupils in math, said Leizear.
"Because the concepts are taught for children at many levels, the special education students can come into the classroom and contribute to the lessons," said Leizear.
Riverside was one of the schools that piloted the program. Leizear believes that his school's initial increase in MSA scores is a sign of greater things to come.
"Our MSA scores increased across the board by seven to 10 points," Leizear said. "And I think the scores are going to continue to improve because the students are really enjoying math."