• Using Different Methods to Teach Math


    Stella Pencast

    Sue Park, featured on today’s Livescribe blog, is a third-grade teacher at Lafayette Elementary School in Northern California. Visit her class page here.

    Math can be tricky! Adding, subtracting, multiplying, and the dreaded long division can become confusing jumbles of numbers if students don’t understand core concepts.

    Sue Park, a third-grade teacher at Lafayette Elementary School in Lafayette, CA, knows that math certainly doesn’t come easily to all her students. Instead of teaching arithmetic traditionally (lining up numbers on paper and completing a very structured step-by-step process), Sue is encouraging her students to think about math conceptually. Instead of confining each student to a uniform process to solve an arithmetic problem, she encourages each of her students to approach the problem in different ways using mental math. By using the Livescribe smartpen with her students, she has the students record their thought processes while drawing the steps they took in their head to come to the correct answer.

    For example, take a look at third-grader Stella’s pencast here. When Stella completes this very basic algebra problem, instead of solving it traditionally (aligning the numbers vertically, subtracting columns from right to left, borrowing when necessary), she uses an open number line in her head to find the difference between the two numbers.

    Sue teaches her students mental math because she wants them to realize there’s more than one method to solve a problem. For example, Stella could have subtracted 37 from 100 in order to solve the problem, but instead added. Sue wants her students to realize that as long as the student arrives at the correct answer, they can use whatever method is effective for them to arrive at it.

    Sue has been teaching at Lafayette Elementary School for the past 10 years, and started working with the Livescribe smartpen when the company offered smartpens to teachers in her district as part of a trial. Sue went to a training class at her district office and learned how to use the smartpen herself. Her district hired a math coach in order to help students move toward common core standards, particularly for third graders. The coach gave Sue ideas for teaching math on a more conceptual level, and since then she’s been implementing these strategies with her students.

    One strategy Sue has found to be effective is allowing her students to teach each other. She’ll have her students create pencasts for the entire class in order to demonstrate the diverse methods that can be used to solve the same problems. One of her students, Zoe, was struggling because she wasn’t able to solve problems in the same way the other students were. However, her own method worked well for her. In a problem such as 26 + 49, she’d subtract one from 26 and then add one to 49 to make easier numbers of 25 to 50 to add together. Manipulating the numbers to make them round helped her solve the problems more easily, and once she demonstrated her approach to the class, they started using it as well! Sue has since dubbed her approach “The Zoe Method.”

    Sue found that the smartpen has been a useful tool not only for her students but for their parents. Parents have been able to listen to pencasts to help their kids do homework. Sue posts the pencasts to her class’s website and emails them to the parents. Parents love that they can see their students’ work online and watch their progress.

    Stay tuned for part two of Sue’s story! We’ll be following up with a post about how Sue has successfully implemented Livescribe sound stickers soon.

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