The first-and second-graders in Sandy Wills’ class sat on the floor in front of a white board covered with a variety of purple math problems.
On cue, they began chanting in unison, figuring out the problems together out loud as Wills followed along with a green pen.
First, they tackled a few addition problems, then subtraction.
“Four take away nine, can’t DO it. Borrow a 10, that leaves five …,” they continued without pause.
Every day, students in Ramsey Elementary School classes spend 15 or 20 minutes working out problems this way.
The new method, called Math Concepts, is being championed as an effective way to teach math and boost test scores.
Ramsey teachers started using it this year after visiting a model program at Lincoln Elementary School in Nampa, Idaho. Ramsey school purchased a white board for every classroom for the Math Concepts method.
“Whether they’re all there or not, it’s like a tape recording,” Wills said. “They’re saying a process. It’s amazing how they pick it up.”
Teachers at Ramsey already have noticed a difference with their students.
“I can see that their skills are a lot higher than the children were this time last year,” said Ellen Wells, a first-grade teacher.
School board members and teachers from other schools have visited Ramsey’s classrooms after hearing about the new program.
Interest in the teaching method mushroomed when people heard that Lincoln Elementary’s standardized test scores in math have increased 30 percentage points since teachers started using Math Concepts three years ago.
Lincoln Principal Rebecca Stallcop finally called a stop to classroom visitors two weeks ago, after ushering almost 500 observers through this year.
“Districts should be interested because you’re not paying for math books every few years,” Stallcop said. Math textbooks “also bore kids to death.”
“We’ve been boring kids for years,” she continued. “Teaching has to be more fast-paced now. Kids watch so much television. We need to be moving and teaching more information.”
Instead of relying on books, teachers write a variety of problems on the board based on the math curriculum.
This week in Wills’ class, the problems were addition, subtraction, fractions, reducing fractions, measurements and a story problem.
She leaves the problems up all week but changes the numbers every day. At the end of the week, the children are tested.
The next week, the board is different; a new math concept is added or dropped, depending on what the students have or haven’t mastered.
Fractions have been covered all year, but the problems have gotten steadily more difficult. The constant review helps children retain their skills, teachers say.
“There are some things up there I don’t expect all the kids can do,” Wills said. “But they all have a chance to do it.”
The math lessons don’t stop with the Math Concept board, however. Teachers back it up with computation work sheets, working in groups according to skill levels.
“Every teacher I’ve talked with has said they’re taking the kids further than they ever had before,” said Ramsey Principal Ann Walker. “The kids are learning, and the teachers are liking it.”