Spotlights
Students at Hawthorne are immersed in math
2/22/10

Students at Hawthorne are immersed in math

After lunch, Hawthorne Elementary School students participate in “Math Munch,” working in pairs to play math games, assisted by parent volunteers. Throughout the day, students encounter math vocabulary words posted on hallway walls and stop to discuss the words with teachers. And every Friday afternoon, everything else stops for a few minutes so that students can tackle the Math Problem of the Week.

At Hawthorne, mathematics has become much more than a class students take each day. Students are immersed in math, and improving in math has become a shared goal that unites staff, students, and parents.

“This focus on mathematics is part of our school improvement plan,” says Jessica Myers, fifth-grade teacher and member of the school Math Committee.

Students at Hawthorne are immersed in math

Schoolwide initiative began in January

“This is something we have been thinking about for years,” explains Hawthorne Principal Gerry DePetris. “With the Math Munch, for example, we have been looking for ways to make more productive use of the lunch break, of the time after students have finished eating. Our Math Committee and other teachers really took the lead this school year in developing a comprehensive mathematics initiative. Also, this year, we have a fulltime family liaison. She has been able to help us build a strong base of parent volunteers to help.”

In addition to Myers, the Math Committee consists of first-grade teacher Cindy Ellinger and fifth-grade teacher Emily Payne.

Students at Hawthorne are immersed in math

The schoolwide math initiative began the second week of January.

More about the Math Munch

For Math Munch, after students finish eating, they can move to a designated space outside of the school’s recreation room and play math games.

The games were selected and created by the math committee and participating volunteers to enhance student understanding of math concepts, stimulate conversations about strategy, and increase social skills. 

“We choose a different game each month for every grade level,” says Ellinger.

Students at Hawthorne are immersed in math

Some of the games for kindergarten and first grade students focus on counting. For second graders, one game challenges one partner to solve a math problem with pencil and paper before the other partner solves it using a calculator. Another game challenges students to determine the least amount of coins needed to add up to a dollar. And one game for fifth-graders requires them to solve long division problems to see how many spaces they will move around a game board.

“As they work their way through the games, a parent volunteer walks around to assist them and to discuss what they are doing, using their math vocabulary words,” adds Ellinger.

About eight parent volunteers, both from the Hawthorne community and also from Jacksonville Elementary (Hawthorne's sister school), are assisting with Math Munch, most of them come in one lunch period each week.

Students at Hawthorne are immersed in math

“The volunteers are working well with the individual students,” says Myers, “but they are having an even greater impact on our school community. Parents are seeing other parents assisting in the school and that is encouraging greater family involvement overall.”

3:05: Time for the problem of the week

Every Friday at 3:05 p.m., a fifth-grade student makes a schoolwide announcement reminding everyone to pull out paper and pencils because it is time to do the Math Problem of the Week.

For each grade level – kindergarten through grade 5 – two word problems are posted on screens in each classroom. Both problems – a “regular” problem and a more difficult “challenge” problem – are designed to help students better understand the operations and steps needed to solve word problems. After the correct answers are revealed, students discuss the problems with their classmates and teachers.

Students at Hawthorne are immersed in math

Students who correctly answer the problems can win “Friday Paws,” passes that can be redeemed for merchandise at the school store.  

Connecting it all

Two other components help unify the math initiative. Free tutoring is offered from 8:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. each day, and ongoing professional development encourages teachers to explore a wide range of math teaching strategies including the expanded use of math games in class.

Story by Diana Spencer, communications officer. Photos courtesy of Hawthorne Elementary School
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