First graders learn basic math with beads and blocks
Beads and blocks are replacing work sheets for first graders learning math basics at Bayfield Early Primary School.
First grader Alex Larson, son of Kami and Mike Larson, demonstrated his skills for the school board on April 15, assisted by teacher Joey Lowe. Alex had yellow beads in groups of four that he hooked together into a chain. He also had a cube made of groups of four beads, 16 on each side, 64 total.
Math coach Carolyn Striker said the beads also come in groups up to 10. Working with them "really develops number sense and understanding of squares and cubes," she said. First graders learn to count by fours, fives, up to 10s. Counting by 10s gets them up to 1,000.
Striker, previously a gifted and talented teacher in the district, has been changing how math is taught in elementary grades, to be more hands-on, Superintendent Troy Zabel said.
Striker said Lowe has been implementing the changes at BEPS, "so we aren't doing work sheet after work sheet, but really meeting the needs of the kids."
Striker showed photos of first graders, many of them sitting on the floor, working on various different hands-on activities at the same time.
"One of the key words is differentiation," she said. "If you have a classroom of second graders, you'll have an ability range of kindergarten to fourth grade. By fifth grade, the range is even more. The tradition has been to teach to one level and expect kids to progress."
Differentiation doesn't work without the hands-on materials, she said. Each kid works on one thing until they learn it. "Teachers get to know the kids in a very deep way. You could have 18 kids doing 18 different things... My goal has been to learn what teachers need and get them the materials. There's not a lot about math in traditional elementary teacher education. I hope to bring that."
Lowe said, "Everything is hands-on with minimal paper. That's at the very end, the abstract piece." The idea is for a student to learn something well enough to present it back to the teacher and other students. That indicates mastery, she said.
"The teaching and collaboration they are doing is unbelievable," Lowe said.
Striker said, "Eventually they wean themselves off the materials and go to pencil and paper."
She clarified to the Times that she has been training teachers all year in the use of manipulative materials. She has a long list of items the kindergarteners and first graders are using.
"...there are multiple manipulatives for every math standard and substandard, below the child's grade level as well as beyond the grade level," she said, "so that children are working at their learning level, which may be below, at, or above their present grade."
Most of the materials were designed more than 100 years ago by Maria Montessori, the namesake for Montessori education.
Striker continued, "Once children learn how to use the materials, the teacher becomes more of an observer and facilitator, rather than the center of the classroom. Children are working on materials at their ability level, and the teacher moves them onward to higher levels in small group lessons as they are ready."
She said second graders will shift to more hands-on materials this fall. In grades three through five, the teachers are using hands-on materials "as presentation tools to make new concepts more understandable, and students are using them from time to time as needed." In those grades, most of the instruction time is for the whole class, with occasional use of hands-on learning centers.