Teachers get math lessons

New theories may help change students' perception of subject

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— It's not surprising to find a student who dislikes math, but it may be surprising to know some teachers aren't too fond of the subject, either.

Deb Knott, who teaches first grade at Soroco Elementary, didn't think math was enjoyable.

Until she attended math camp recently, that is.

"Math is fun," she said. "I found that out last week."

Knott joined almost 40 other kindergarten through high school teachers in a Mathematics Education Collaborative seminar in Oak Creek that started last Tuesday and will end Friday. The nine-day course drew teachers from all over the state interested in exploring new teaching theories and methods.

To do so, the teachers became the students, working in groups to solve difficult problems.

"There's been a lot of ah-hah's this week," said teacher Tom Keenan, who teaches fifth grade at Soda Creek Elementary. "I'm learning to be a learner myself."

Keenan said the seminar was based on the theory of constructivism, a recently developed theory about how children can best learn mathematics.

"It's understanding that students must actively be involved in their own learning," he said. "It's hands-on, minds-on."

The seminar is original because it does not instruct teachers how to teach math to their students. Instead, teachers gain experience to fill gaps in their own knowledge and fresh insight into students' minds.

"It's not a methods course, it's more of a content course," said Lisa Mesple, one of the instructors. "We're trying to rethink how they teach in their classroom."

This is the second year that the seminar has been held in Northwest Colorado. A grant allowed the seminar to be brought to the area, and teachers hope that the trend will continue.

Educators said valuable lessons have been learned from the seminar.

"I've learned the importance of being able to work in a group," said Knott.

One high school teacher believes the seminar may hold the key to helping more students grasp difficult math concepts.

"There's really a long-term traditional approach to teaching math that has left a lot of kids out," said Greg Binsfeld from Soroco High School. "We're not teaching the way they can learn it."

The teachers voluntarily gave up two weeks of their summer to attend, and they have a long list of goals to achieve.

Binsfeld said he hopes the hands-on approach to math helps more students enjoy the subject and, more importantly, raises their level of comprehension.

"I want to take back strategies to help make my classroom more focused on students constructing their own learning," teacher Ben Barbier said. Other educators hoped the course would help them to understand what happens in their classes.

"I need understanding about why some students will struggle with some problems and others don't," Leif Jacobsen said, a high school math teacher from Hayden.

A common objective among all teachers was to renew their own knowledge banks.

"I want to bring back a renewed enthusiasm to class and a clear understanding of math learning," Keenan said.

The seminar offered two classes: level one, for newcomers to the program, was titled "Patterns, Functions, and Algebraic Thinking," and the second level, geared to teachers who have completed the first course, was called "Geometry and Proportional Reasoning."

Mesple said that MEC offers a total of four classes to teachers.

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