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VOL. 133 | NO. 20 | Friday, January 26, 2018

Back to School

Parents get refresher to help their children be successful

By Bill Dries

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Third grade math is still all about multiplication and division, which may be learned through memorization or through applying addition and subtraction. But it is always about understanding the concept.

“If you can add and subtract, you can multiply and divide,” is how third grade math teacher April Dandridge put it to a group of six parents recently at Macon Hall Elementary School in Cordova.

For about an hour Macon Hall parents got pizza, child care and a crash course in the Eureka math curriculum and expeditionary learning in English and language arts.

April Dandridge, a teacher at Macon Hall Elementary School, teaches third grade math to a room full of parents using the new Eureka math curriculum.   (Daily News/Houston Cofield)

“I think we are all in the same age range where we knew how Ms. Johnson taught us,” Dandridge, a teacher at Goodlett Elementary, told the parents. “We don’t know why it worked but it worked because it’s how Ms. Johnson did it and you can’t explain a thing you just did. But you carried that one and moved that over – there was no concept. It worked.

“But when you got to the next grade you weren’t able to transfer it because you really didn’t understand the why.”

She is among the teachers who are conducting the “winter workshop” classes for parents that began in December and end next week.

The sessions are divided by grade level with 25 slots at each level for the hour-long session. There were also interpreters for parents who don’t speak English. Parents sign up for slots on line.

Dandridge and Rachelle Taylor, an instructional support advisor for Shelby County Schools who taught the expeditionary learning – or EL – segment – took parents through the school system’s reasoning in what it is teaching and what its goals are for students.

They also told parents how to help their children and where to find help online, in person and by phone if they need help. Then each walked the parents through a problem or exercise the third graders would do in a typical class.

Dandridge ran through a glossary of math terms and admitted a fondness for them.

Not so for the older term “borrowing” – a term in basic math that has fought extinction through new math and into Eureka. It’s a term associated with the way parents through several generations have learned math and have used to get through their children’s and grandchildren’s homework.

“Talk about why math works,” she said. “Our children sometimes cannot even talk math. Use the correct vocabulary. I love it when my students use the proper language instead of just saying, ‘I’m moving the one up.’ No, you are regrouping. We are not borrowing.”

But she also understands that children may have problems remembering a term or even pronouncing it in the third grade.

“You need to make sure that doesn’t stop them from going through the problem,” she said. “Little things like that would make them upset and it’s hard for them to move on. Keep going. People just have different names.”

Dandridge chose an exercise in fractions – specifically “counting halves” or various numbers “over” the number 2.

“Instead of making that fraction into a decimal – what we are used to – you child is taught counting starting at 2,” she said as she had the parents draw a number path one through four and mark the spots for each number. She then gave the parents fractions including 5/2 and 8/2 to plot on the path, which Dandridge also referred to as a number line, something the parents were more familiar with.

As Eureka math transitioned into EL, one of the parents examined her number line and where the fractions were plotted and began talking about what happens with her son and his homework some nights.

“He was doing something last night and I looked at and said, ‘What on earth are you doing?” she said. “I told him, ‘Go do something else and come back later.”

And with that the other parents began commenting.

“We were learning together,” one said of a similar experience. “I don’t know if it’s right or wrong.”

“I don’t want to confuse him,” another mother said of her third grader.

“I feel like I need to teach myself,” said Damien Pointer, who with his wife Danielle Pointer, has twin girls in the third grade.

“They will say we didn’t learn it that way,” he said later. “But it’s rare that you will hear, ‘Don’t help me.’”

At the workshop’s end, Danielle Pointer said it was helpful.

“It helps to open it up more so we could understand where their teacher is coming from so we can understand more where they are,” she said.

They have an older daughter who was easier to help with math homework even in the age of Eureka.

“She analyzes math the way that I do,” Damien Pointer said. “She’s one of those kids that looks at problems. If Eureka math wasn’t around she would still see a problem, analyze it two or three different ways and still be able to solve it. The twins, I don’t see it with them.”

Taylor walked parents through the use of modules for EL learning and the ebb and flow of homework levels that come when a new module begins. The next one is Feb. 19 and will involve reading about colonial times.

Students begin with images and pictures and then to texts that are read aloud by teachers. The texts are several grades ahead of third grade but teachers don’t tell the students that as they lead discussions about what they have heard.

“For third grade most of the texts are read aloud,” she said, adding there is at least one text at grade level “where the students do the heavy lifting.”

“The teacher’s reading it. She’s re-reading it,” Taylor said. “She’s doing what are called closed reads and reading specific chunks of the texts and trying to get the students to understand what is happening in those specific parts.”

After the first week students start doing research toward a performance-based project built around the theme of the nine-week period that brings together all of the texts they’ve been exposed to during that time.

Taylor was still teaching when a tone sounded in the third grade classroom and the one-hour class ended. Some parents stayed after to talk more with teachers as children joined them. As one parent was leaving with her first grader and a younger child, there was another turn of the tables as he asked her what she had learned.

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