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Local math teachers learn new concepts for the classroom

Mindy Harris, Lori Wiltrout and Candi Miller
Instructor Mindy Harris (center) assists Connellsville Area School District math teachers Lori Wiltrout (right) and Candi Miller on an exercise during The Math Academy at Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus.
8/5/2011 —

Elementary and middle school math teachers are back in school this summer to learn new concepts for the classroom. Teachers from Connellsville, Uniontown, Carmichaels, Ringgold, Washington, Brownsville, Jefferson Morgan, IU1 and Champion Christian School are taking part in the second-year of a three-year professional development program called The Math Academy, developed in partnership by Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus and the Intermediate Unit One Center for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics education.

The program is funded through a grant of $192,500 each year to the academy to promote Algebra readiness in grades three through eight.

Last year, the academy focused on the concept of numeracy, how you think about whole numbers. This year, participating educators are deepening their understanding of rational numbers, which are numbers that can be written as a fraction. Next year’s focus will be geometry.

The key component of the academy is to instruct educators on how to make mathematical concepts more hands-on and, in turn, more accessible to students of varying mathematical abilities.

Paul Coltus, program support for the math academy, says the more traditional way of teaching mathematical concepts is difficult for today’s students to grasp. “Educators are finding out that students are more tactile when it comes to learning. Current students are not visual learners like they have been in the past. It has come to a point where the old styles are getting phased out and mathematical manipulatives are taking their place.”

Coltus explains by using learning tools, such as fraction pie puzzles and geoboards, a student who is a high achiever at math can help another student who may be struggling with the concept by demonstrating how to use these manipulatives.

Amy Lewis, of the IU1 and coordinator of the Math Academy, explains how essential interactive learning is to students. “We are using strategies that have been developed by research to teach concepts that are troublesome for students. Using a hands-on approach helps a student develop a deeper understanding of difficult concepts. It is our hope that educators who participate in the academy walk away with a renewed confidence level of the concepts and learn different techniques to make a classroom connection.”

Lewis also added that she hopes the 51 educators in attendance this summer take the opportunity to participate in professional networking through the school year.

Instructing the educators this year are Nicole Hill, a math professor at Penn State Fayette who crafted the curriculum for the program; Harry Lynch, a retired high school math teacher; Mindy Harris, a math coach from Uniontown Area School District is teaching classroom connections; and Lewis.

This year Hill, Lewis and Penn State Fayette Director of Outreach Joseph Segilia worked together to develop the academy.

Segilia explains, “In its partnerships with The Math Academny, Penn State Fayette is reaching out to the area’s education system and is helping to address a need, helping teachers become more effective in the classroom. In using the resources of the university, such as its mathematics faculty, our campus can connect with the school districts and teachers who educate the youth of the community.”

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