Chadron State College students, from left, Amanda Einspahr of McCook, Nebraska, and Lauren Moller of Alliance, Nebraska, teach Reese Varvel and her mother, Raime Varvel, during the 2014 Hay Springs Family Math Night. (Courtesy photo)
CHADRON – For six years, Dr. Beth Wentworth and elementary and middle school math education majors at Chadron State College have been reaching out to area youth in an effort to help build their math skills.
In 2010, Wentworth, a professor in the Mathematical Sciences department, proposed a collaborative math outreach program to Dr. Margaret Crouse, the former dean of education.
“I laid out the benefits I saw for both our students and the children at Chadron Public Schools. Dr. Crouse offered some suggested changes to the program and I resubmitted it,” Wentworth said.
From there, Wentworth met with Dr. Caroline Winchester, superintendent of Chadron Public Schools (CPS) to offer the services of CSC students to the school district, both after school and during the day.
Lorna Eliason, director of the Chadron After School Program, said the district is fortunate Wentworth’s vision brought to life the dream two young teachers and CSC alumni, Tyler Bartlett and Siobhana McEwen, had mentioned to her years earlier: CSC students helping K-8 students master math.
“Our students are the winners. We are so grateful for CSC. The experience is also an eye-opener for the CSC math tutors. It gives them a real edge in the job market. They are wonderful people and good educators to begin with and then this experience helps them move ahead of other candidates for full time teaching positions when the graduate,” Eliason said.
As the CSC tutors teach new concepts, they are learning as much as the CPS students, according to Eliason.
“They discover how to apply what they are learning in Beth’s classes in a real-life setting to help students of different abilities and some with disabilities,” Eliason said.
Dane McConnell of Lodgepole, Nebraska, said before Wentworth’s class he was unsure of the teaching path he wanted to pursue.
“I am thankful for Dr. Wentworth’s enthusiasm toward math and the students. Her enthusiasm toward math and students really helped me solidify my goals of being a math teacher,” McConnell said.
About 30 volunteers and 24 paid staff comprise the After School math tutor cadre. Last year, the volunteers alone logged over 630 hours in the program, according to Eliason. In addition, some CSC students who are not available for the After School Program work with CPS children during the school day. Three current CSC students are site coordinators, responsible for running two of the programs, Eliason said.
“We could not do this valuable one-on-one work with our staff. Their (CSC students) presence is invaluable. Our kids love to see the CSC students walk in the door,” Eliason said.
The feeling is mutual for McConnell.
“I always get excited when I walk into a classroom and see a bunch of kids. I love interacting with them and discussing schoolwork. I am extremely thankful that the students are getting just as much out of the program as me and my classmates are,” McConnell said.
In 2013, Wentworth expanded the program to K-6 pupils and their families at Hay Springs, Nebraska, and Oelrichs, South Dakota, through an annual Family Math Night activity at each site.
The CSC math students enrolled in Math for the Elementary Teacher (MATH 235) and Math for the Elementary Teacher II (MATH 238) work in groups of three to design and prepare age-appropriate activities, create game boards and game pieces, sometimes using candy for manipulatives, objects designed so a learner can perceive some mathematical concept with it.
One of the games, square dance, is a combination of Twister and hop scotch. Large squares created with tape on the gymnasium floor resemble a giant calculator. CSC students call out numbers that are intended to be either added, subtracted, multiplied or divided. The elementary children are expected to jump on the first two numbers, mentally calculate the answer and then jump on the number that completes the equation.
A few of the many games include swatting the answer to a verbal math problem with a fly swatter. Another involves running around bases similar to baseball and one for younger children features fishing the answer out of a pond with a magnetic fishing pole.
“The activities continually evolve. The students contribute to the continual improvement process by providing feedback and suggestions for next year,” Wentworth said. “It’s really nice when the whole family attends.”
The Family Math Nights are planned late in the semester so CSC students have a firm grasp on the concepts they are teaching.
Jessie Anderson, a fifth grade Hay Springs teacher, said the event gives families the opportunity to interact with mathematics in a fun, stress-free way.
“We always have a wonderful turn-out. The CSC students consistently do a fantastic job of creating games that are accessible to students from pre-school to middle school. I appreciate Dr. Wentworth’s dedication to continuing this partnership,” Anderson said.
CSC students benefit from the experience in numerous ways, according to Wentworth.
“They come back to campus ready to share their observations about the effectiveness of their activities and ranking each one for its age appropriateness. Also, they are open to trying other new and different teaching strategies,” Wentworth said. “It’s important for the pre-service teachers to know they don’t just dispense knowledge. They help the children figure out the problems and find the answer themselves.”
Coaching, mentoring, facilitating and cheerleading are the roles Wentworth wants to see the CSC students fulfilling.
McConnell said his first experience with Family Math Night in 2016 was fun and exciting.
“The event brings children out of the textbook and makes teaching and learning so much more enjoyable. There was so much creativity and thought put into these games. I love that I can also bounce off ideas from one classmate to another and use these games when I’m a teacher. Just from one night of games, I have multiple ideas for my classroom,” McConnell said.
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