Teacher to use grant funds to help build math concepts

Photo by Emily Jennings
Aukamm Principal Alice Berard (far left) and Math Coach
Diane Johnston work with second and third grade students on math activities Feb. 7 at Aukamm Elementary.

Students at Aukamm Elementary are getting hands-on experience in mathematical concepts that will lay the foundation for their future math learning, thanks to an enterprising teacher and a little bit of extra money.

Aukamm Elementary Math Coach Diane Johnston was awarded close to $1,400 to support the development of conceptual mathematics knowledge in her classroom. This “$mart Money” was conceived as a motivational tool to allow teachers to develop innovative methods and practices in their classrooms, according to a DoDEA news release.

Johnston was one of 10 teachers across the DoDEA Europe East District to receive “$mart Money” funds. She was among three teachers at the school who had applied for the grants, said Aukamm Elementary Principal Alice Berard.

Photo by Emily Jennings
Now, when kids study geometry, they work with these geometry nets, which are flattened representations of three-dimensional solid forms. This helps students envision the different sides and vertices, which can be a difficult abstract concept. The new materials that Johnston requested for her classroom include magnetic individual shapes that students can use to build and create the forms.

Johnston requested a combination of teacher resources and math manipulatives that will be arriving at the school shortly. “The teacher resources are to help teachers provide lessons that will match our new college and career readiness standards,” she said.
This curriculum caters to struggling students, gifted students and all those in between for each grade level, said Johnston, who teaches kindergarteners through fifth graders. These new tools put the emphasis on real-life, applicable problem solving skills, she said.
The manipulatives Johnston ordered will help students visualize shapes and mathematical concepts. Students will be able to construct three-dimensional forms from two-dimensional magnetic shapes. “They won’t have to abstractly imagine what’s going on,” she said. “They can actually build it.”

Playing with these shapes is a fun way to promote an understanding of mathematics in students at different stages of learning. “It’s great for the younger kids to promote building and seeing how shapes go together, and then the older ones can actually use it to build a rectangular prism and then count the faces and vertices,” Johnston said.
She said the curriculum includes a great combination of teacher resources to help provide them with rich lessons; in other words, assignments that will allow students to wrap their brains around the concepts, as opposed to simple memorization.
“There was a real focus on memorizing formulas [in the past] and not really understanding math,” she said. “With our new standards there’s just a lot of focus on ‘hands-on’ and understanding why we do certain things.”
And for kids who are struggling, these tools can make all the difference for later when it comes to learning higher math. “The math rules and the algorithms come later after they’ve had experience and exposure to these concepts.” Johnston said. “So much of math is abstract, so we want to provide ‘hands-on’ concrete experiences before we get to length, times width, times height.”
The classroom tools will enable the teachers to reach more students, Berard said. “Students’ learning styles are very different, and this offers another opportunity for students who have a different learning style. We want all students to be able to conceptualize math.”
Both educators agreed: There’s a place for memorizing formulas and a place for calculators, but the foundation and the goal is that students have a good understanding of mathematical concepts.
“Learning these higher level math skills — in elementary — that is going to help them in later math, in Geometry and Trigonometry. They have to have the foundation to build on,” Berard said.