June 24, 2008

Teachers Are Shown Unusual Ways to Teach

By Liz Mitchell, The Island Packet, Hilton Head Island, S.C.

Jun. 24--For kindergarten teacher Barbara Hilton, one of her favorite math lessons begins with a sing-a-long.

"A tooty-ta, a tooty-ta, a tooty-ta-ta," she sang while standing in a circle with 25 other kindergarten teachers echoing the lyrics. "Thumbs up. Elbows back. Feet apart. Knees together. Bottoms up. Tongue out. Eyes shut. Turn around."

The song teaches students about sequencing and is part of a lesson on patterns. It's also part of the new curriculum for Beaufort County schools, called "Everyday Math," which is being applied districtwide next school year.

Local teachers were learning the new methods Monday at the Beaufort County School District's Summer Institute -- a weeklong program in Beaufort County that offers classes and credits for teachers working toward re-certification.

The institute was locally initiated by Superintendent Valerie Truesdale this year. About 700 teachers are taking a variety of classes in writing, math, science, technology, foreign language and music. The teachers can take as many or as few classes as they like. They are paid $100 a day and earn credits toward state certification, which is required to be updated every five years.

Hilton, who works at Leaphart Elementary School in Columbia, is presenting the curriculum to kindergarten teachers at the institute this week.

Everyday Math is different from the traditional methods of memorizing multiplication tables and filling out worksheets. It engages students in more active learning, supporters say.

Also, instead of spending weeks on a particular math lesson, students are introduced to the concepts for a few days and revisit them later. This technique, called "spiraling," is designed to help students build on their problem-solving skills so they can retain information and improve test scores.

"We have a big crisis in Beaufort County in terms of our math skills," Truesdale told the crowd at the institute's kickoff. "The No. 1 program that is working is Everyday Math."

Bluffton elementary schools were using the method before the districtwide application and had the highest math test scores on last school year's PACTs, said district math coordinator Maryanne Rizzi.

Truesdale said the institute also would focus on ways teachers could improve student literacy, use new technologies and improve communication among schools and teachers.

"High school teachers like to blame middle school teachers for not teaching well enough," Truesdale said. "Middle school teachers blame elementary school teachers for not getting their students ready.

"We have to be big enough to say, 'Is this student ready?' You can't say, 'It depends.' That is educational malpractice. We have to know."


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