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Reinventing Math Class

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Some Washoe County students are seeing a dramatic change in the way their teachers teach math.

About one quarter of Washoe County's 3rd-through 5th-graders aren't meeting proficiency in math, and although that is an improvement from previous years, the learning gap inspired a local professor to rethink the subject.

Dr. Teruni Lamberg teaches elementary education at the university. After doing field research in classrooms all over Nevada, she wrote a book on a new method of teaching math.

"The basis is, we want kids to be able to think critically, and be able to learn math with understanding," Lamberg said.

"With understanding" is the challenging part. A lot of kids get by in math class by memorizing formulas and applying them without really knowing why. It might get them an "A" on a test, but chances are, those lessons probably won't stick. Lamberg's method combines traditional front-of-the-class teaching, with small and large group discussions, and proactive troubleshooting. And, she is taking it from a university classroom, to an elementary one.

5th graders in Channon Toles' class at Kate Smith Elementary School in Reno were working on a word problem about handshakes when Channel 2 paid them a visit. They started working individually, then discussed in small groups, then demonstrated their theories and discussed it as a class. Finally, they did a demonstration.

Toles said that using a variety of different methods appeals to a variety of different brains, ensuring that kids at all levels have a chance to participate and process the information.

"When kids actually try to make sense of the problems, they take ownership of their own learning," Lamberg said.

"It's more of them thinking," Toles said. "Instead of just the teacher going up and doing an algorithm and showing them exactly what to do with that mathematical concept. If we just go up there and teach them the whole time, you don't have them thinking. Are they really going to be college ready? No. They have to be able to think on their own."

Toles said since she started using this new method in her class at the beginning of last year, her students showed 200 percent of the expected growth. Lamberg said she has heard from teachers using her methods in schools all over Nevada, as well as in other states, and even Canada.

Written by Arianna Bennett
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