It Isn’t A Mess, It’s Math Creative Teaching Methods Earn Teacher National Recognition
Kaye Kamp’s sixth graders don’t do math in their heads.
They do it with their hands, mouths, eyes and ears.
Ashley tastes fractions in sugar cookies - the measurements multiplied into double and triple batches for extra arithmetic.
Kalynn hears music from her teacher’s recorder and recognizes symmetry.
Kris sees geometry when triangular Tangrams finally fit into a puzzle.
They laugh out loud at math made merry.
Post Falls Middle School teacher Kaye Kamp earned the 1998 Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching this year from the National Science Foundation. She’ll attend White House ceremonies in June and receive a $7,500 grant for improving math and science teaching methods.
With studies showing U.S. high school seniors lagging behind students in other countries in math and science, Kamp’s approach may be setting a standard for successful teaching: Make it relevant and real. Let them touch it, eat it, bend it, even break it sometimes.
Math wasn’t always fun for Kamp, much less a career choice. Her memories of elementary school in Spokane are defined by failed attempts at math that fractured her self-confidence. In third grade, her desk was surrounded by boys.
“I would cry silently to myself because they could understand carrying and borrowing and I couldn’t,” she recalled. “I would think ‘What’s wrong with me?’ But it wasn’t what was wrong with me, it was what was wrong with the methods teachers were using to teach me.”
Studies show a gender gap exists between girls and boys in math. On the SAT math portion, females score an average of 494 of a possible 800 points, lagging behind males by 36 points.
Kamp’s father, Don, a longtime Spokane public schools math consultant and state math supervisor for Montana, knew his daughter could succeed.
When she came home frustrated, he’d say “Well, let’s look at it a different way,” and pull out his math toolbox of tongue depressors, empty egg cartons, blocks and beans.
Don Kamp died of a heart attack six years ago. Boxes of his life’s work as a math teacher and curriculum writer fill his daughter’s basement - math lessons, teaching tools, math games he invented.
But not all the answers are there.
“I sometimes think ‘Come to me in my dream, Dad, I can’t remember that one lesson.”’ Without him, she turns to other teachers for creative ideas, and brainstorms in her old station wagon, driving 45 miles daily from her Riverside farm.
Most mornings, she sips on 44 ounces of Diet Pepsi and sets her dial to Susan Powter’s radio show. The inspirational shock-blond nutritionist is known for her “Stop the Insanity!” cry. It’s Kamp’s psyche-up for controlling her own impending chaos.
“Gimme Five!” she commands when the classroom noise level crests. The directive, signaled by an open palm held high, is teacher-ese for “hush up and direct all five senses at me.” Classroom control is key for hands-on projects that inspire and rev up students.
At lunch, exhausted, the 38-year-old kicks off her shoes and props them up off the dusty floor. It’s hard work, orchestrating daily projects to illustrate learning, and then testing with similar methods.
She’s rarely home before 7 p.m. On Thursdays she stays overnight with a colleague and takes night classes at North Idaho College. She attends conferences or workshops on free weekends to mine for fresh ideas.
“If a teacher is enthusiastic about what they are doing and they genuinely like it, the kids will, too,” she theorizes.
It’s a proven philosophy for three generations of passionate Kamp teachers. Her grandmother Louise fibbed about her age to teach at Metaline Falls. Her mother, Harriette, taught P.E. and science in Kellogg and later hauled test tubes and microscopes to Spokane schools volunteering free science lessons. She still teaches at area colleges.
When Kamp’s younger sister LouAnn decided to teach English, it was as though there was no escaping genealogical fate. Kamp stubbornly followed her nursing dream but, unsatisfied after three years, she turned to education.
She pursued an education degree from Eastern Washington University, thinking her solid needlepoint and cooking skills would make her a good home economics teacher. Her father gently suggested she could handle a more complex subject. After finishing her degree, he invited her to teach hands-on math workshops with him in Spokane.
Coordinate geometry suddenly seemed so simple.
“Math was never a part of my real life at school,” Kamp explained. “That’s why in my class we cook.”
It’s not just girls who respond to Kamp’s methods.
“It’s awesome to get dirty,” said 12-year-old Khalid Baber.
Adds Michael Mertz: “We don’t always do (math) in the book. We do hands-on projects, and that makes us want to do it.”
At Kamp’s first teaching job back in 1986, some parents groused that kids were “playing” instead of laboring over long division dittos. In Leadore, a tiny high-desert town in southeastern Idaho, the community welcomed newcomers by bragging about how many they ran out the year before. A single mom, Kamp lived with her two young children in a district-owned rental, scraping by on $14,500 a year. She stuck by the methods she knew worked and eventually proved skeptics wrong.
But the real vindication will come when she receives her $7,500 grant - more than half her first salary - in recognition of her effectiveness.
She plans to use the money to develop a program that allows local residents and teachers to attend math and science classes in grades 1-8.
For some adults, even the most benign arithmetic - balancing checkbooks or calculating a 15 percent tip - can trigger panic.
That’s because math and reality aren’t woven together often enough in the classroom, Kamp said. It’s more work. It’s messy. But it’s worth it, she said.
“To have math applied to people’s real lives makes a huge difference.”
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