Atlantic
City Press
October 20,
2003
Giving Teachers a better formula for math teaching
By Diane D'Amico
BUENA VISTA
TOWNSHIP  Math always came easily to Betsy McShea. Now she's trying
to make it more accessible to all students.
A math professor at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey,
McShea is part of a Stockton team that won a state grant to work
with teachers in the Atlantic City and Buena Regional districts
on more effective ways to teach math.
While students in the state have made gains in literacy, math test
scores are lagging. McShea believes the solution is more effective
teaching that shows students how math is useful in their lives.
"We want to get all the teachers to work as one, nicely flowing
from grade to grade," she said. "There should be no big
surprises for students."
That means introducing basic algebra concepts as early as kindergarten.
It means a lot of handson activities, studentgenerated learning
and applying math to real life problems.
"I teach a lot of mathphobic students (at Stockton),"
McShea said. "They don't hate math. They just need more experience
with it."
The same might be said of the Buena Regional elementary school teachers
McShea worked with during a recent training session. McShea handed
them a lengthy word problem to determine how many lockers in a school
would remain open after a series of math steps. To explain it, she
had them become the lockers and act out the problem.
"You look at the problem and think there must be an easier
way to do this," she said. "But what is it? By acting
out the problem the students can see the math patterns emerge. The
number 12 gets a lot of action because a lot of other numbers divide
into it."
While the concepts were higher math, the problem also used simple
issues of odd/even numbers and counting. Even kindergarteners can
get the hang of one number being less than or greater than another.
McShea loves integrating math into other subjects. She pulled out
math riddle books, picture books and numbered tile kits students
can use.
She believes teachers do too much direct teaching with worksheets,
instead of letting students work problems out themselves. She teaches
remedial students at Stockton and believes most of their problems
were in teaching, not learning.
"I hear form my college students that they just did a lot of
worksheets in high school," she said. "If they didn't
get something, the teacher just gave them more worksheets rather
than trying to explain it in a different way."
The mother of two, McShea loves applying her education to lessons
her children can use. She's thrilled when her kindergartener says
he does some of the same things at school. It gives her hope the
next generation of math students will enjoy math rather than dread
it.
"You have to make math useful," she said.
