Barkley sees results with new math model in classrooms

First-graders work on problem solving skills during Math Workshop

If Mia has four books, Gabby has two books and James has six books, how many books do they have altogether? That question is an example of one of the many math problems first-graders at Barkley Elementary School work to answer during their daily math workshop.

During math workshop, students learn how to solve math problems like the one mentioned above by taking a closer look at the vocabulary used in the problem. For example, the use of the word “altogether” in the problem above indicates to the students that they’ll solve the problem using addition. On the other hand, when students see words and phrases like “fewer” and “how many more,” they know they’ll have to use subtraction.

“Our math workshop is focused on supporting students as they improve their problem solving skills,” said Principal Donna Decker. “Teachers often begin the lesson with a word problem and teach the skill through that lens.”

After solving the daily word problem as a class, students then break off into groups of four for what teachers call “math centers,” where students can practice their math skills through different activities. The activities get more challenging as the students progress.

“We have high expectations for our students and we are seeing great results,” Decker said. “Students are working in collaborative groups to solve problems and explain their answers.”

In Raelyn Hillier’s class, students use the different math centers to practice skills like math vocabulary, pictographs, bar graphs and three-digit addition.

“The vocabulary that they use is amazing,” said Hillier. “We do a lot of ‘turn and talk,’ so the students feed off each other and they teach each other. That type of interaction works really well for this model.”

During math workshop, first-graders are also tasked with creating and solving their own math word problems, which can be challenging for this age group.

“Kids struggle with math word problems so that’s why we try to get the vocabulary and the reading part of it down before they move on to the higher levels,” said teacher Melissa Douglas. “That way, they know what to do and they’re more confident.”

Both Hillier and Douglas say seeing the progress their students make every day is rewarding, but hearing their enthusiasm for what is typically stereotyped as one of the harder subjects is even better.

“They’re really enjoying this new math block,” Hillier said. “I asked them what their favorite part of the day was and they said math and English language arts, which surprised me. Gym and recess used to be the hot ones! They’re really into it and I think they like having a choice when it comes to the math centers.”