By Erin Haywood and the 122nd Street Elementary School Team, City Year Los Angeles
Have you ever experienced Math Anxiety? When faced with math problems do your palms start to sweat as your paper becomes filled with eraser residue? Most of my life I "hated" math and dreaded going to class or completing assignments. My fear of math even followed me to college, where I did everything in my power to avoid math classes. It wasn't until I received training about math anxiety at City Year that I realized that math wasn’t causing my fear—I was causing it! I had created a negative mindset about math that created unnecessary insecurities from a young age. This experience has taught me the importance of how City Year AmeriCorps members present math to students. We need to build connections between the students and the content and break up the material into digestible parts. We need to make math fun!
Right before the winter break, teachers at our school started to introduce fractions, a notoriously difficult concept in elementary school math class. Additionally, with the shift to Common Core, teachers are trained to put a strong emphasis not only on the end result, but also on building procedural and conceptual understanding. To do our part to support their understanding, our team received training on how to use counters and fractions pies in our interventions and the results have been amazing.
San is an AmeriCorps member who works with third graders. Her students had difficulty creating visual representations of fractions. One day, while helping students with their homework, San noticed that one problem was particularly challenging for her students. The problem described a meal that was cooked with hamburger and asked students what fraction would be left over. San took out the fraction pies and had each student represent each fraction in the problem. After the students successfully showed each fraction, it allowed San to guide the students to understand what the question was asking. This session was a great success because it allowed the students to not only complete their homework accurately, but to build a deeper conceptual understanding of fractions—exactly the purpose of the Common Core!
Another AmeriCorps members, Arwa, used counters to demonstrate multiplication with her fourth grade students. One student, Jackson, often struggles with staying focused during lessons. Since the beginning of the year, Arwa has been balancing finding creative ways to engage Jackson, while also fostering a productive space for her other students. After being trained on using math counters, Arwa realized that this might be just what Jackson needed. With the counters, her small group stayed productive and engaged. Jackson was even a leader in the group session because of his aptitude using the counters. At one point, Jackson answered a problem correctly and with joy in his eyes exclaimed, "I get it now!"
Overall, math manipulatives have been a great way for our students to engage and make connections with math content. Math can be fun when AmeriCorps members bring in student interest and allow for students to visualize the problems at hand. Math manipulatives are a great way to change a student’s perspective of math from a feeling of dread into something fun!