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'Math Day' offers lessons for everybody

Posted on Nov 30, 2012
UW-Superior students learn how to teach math through hands-on 'Math Days.'
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Emily Johnson, a math education major from Duluth, teaches a lesson in probability to elementary school children at a Math Day held on campus.

Emily Johnson, a math education major from Duluth, teaches a lesson in probability to elementary school children at a 'Math Day' held on campus.

They may be the youngest students you see on campus. Five times each semester, children from Superior elementary schools come to UW-Superior to math lessons. And it's up to Marilyn Toscano's students to teach them.

Students in Toscano's Teaching Elementary and Middle School Mathematics course teach five "Math Days" during which Superior schoolchildren of various grades are brought to campus for 90-minute sessions in six different areas.

The purpose of the course is to develop the students' competency to teach math. Drawing on skills and knowledge acquired in class sessions and in previous courses, they're responsible for researching, planning and applying the lessons they will teach to the visiting children.

Part of the challenge is that when the schoolchildren arrive, the university students have no idea what skills they possess or whether any have special needs. That requires the students to learn to adapt quickly and to think on their feet, said Toscano, a senior lecturer in the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science.

To prepare their lessons, the students search the Internet and use their own ideas, said Emily Johnson, a math education major from Duluth.

They use the experience and knowledge gained in earlier methods classes to gauge how difficult to make their lessons for various grades.

"You know where they're at mentally and what they're capable of doing," she said. "We're thinking, 'What would you teach kindergarten through sixth-graders,' so we have to develop plans for each level."

A key to success is making the lesson interesting to the audience. For younger children, that might mean basing a lesson on measurement around "Jack and the Beanstalk," and having children weigh "eggs" and measure the length of beanstalks they make.

"We want to put together fun learning activities. We try to make it fun but they're still learning," said Alyssa Buhrmann, an elementary education from Rice Lake, Wis.

As part of their lesson, the teacher education students also plan "extension activities" - that means creating a Plan B (and Plan C) in case the schoolchildren don't understand or lose interest in the initial lesson plan.

The students need to be well prepared, Toscano said, because today even kindergarten children may come to Math Day knowing how to use smart boards and computers.

The UW-Superior students conduct their sessions in pairs but each teaches his or her own lesson. Lindsay Clark, an elementary education major from Superior, said having free rein in the classroom provides important experience.

"This class gives us a realistic idea what to expect in the classroom because, even though we're working with a partner, we're the only one up there teaching the lesson," she said.

Although she plans to teach kindergarten after graduating, Clark said she values the experience she's gaining by teaching math to older children so she can understand how her work plays into their development.

"I've always felt math is important," she said. "People use math every day of their lives. It's as important as literacy."

News Contact: Al Miller | 715-394-8260 | amiller{atuws}
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