"One of the biggest hurdles to get students interested in STEM learning is the misconception that math is hard and unpleasant. Fortunately, we are helping students become less frustrated and less afraid of math."
Workshop Helps Teachers Improve Math Skills
Workshop Improves Math Skills
Some Corning-area teachers have started the school year with more confidence in math thanks to a one-week summer workshop sponsored by the company. Now in its sixth year, the program is helping elementary-school teachers improve their teaching skills – and overcome their fears – when it comes to this crucial subject.
The goal is to make math understandable, interesting, and fun for students so more will confidently pursue STEM education and careers, but also have the necessary strength in math needed for general success.
"There are some teachers who choose to teach elementary education because they are not comfortable with their math and science skills," said Christine G. Sharkey, vice president and director of community development for Corning Enterprises, the community and economic-development arm of Corning. "The workshop is intended to build teachers' confidence in their subject matter."
Sharkey thought up with the idea for the workshops in 2011, after she heard nationally recognized math educator Herb Gross speak in Corning about the challenges teachers face in making math accessible to students.
"My focus at Corning Enterprises has been on education and professional development for teachers, because the best way to make any sustainable difference in education is by investing in teachers," said Sharkey.
Corning Enterprises has funded five summer workshops since 2011 that have educated about 150 teachers from Corning, Horseheads, and Elmira schools districts. Corning has also arranged for all of the teaching materials, including handouts, video lessons, and PowerPoints for use in classes, to be available online.
"We wanted to start in the early grades because once students get to fifth and sixth grades, if they haven't had a strong foundation in math, it's going to be challenging for them to go to the next level," she said.
Putting Math in Context
Putting Math in Context
Gross, a Massachusetts native who founded the math department at Corning Community College in 1958, uses his Adjective/Noun Theme to educate teachers because he said young students have a better understanding of math if teachers talk about numbers as quantities and provide visual examples.
"Twelve is bigger than one as adjectives (numbers), but 12 inches is equal to one foot (inches and foot are nouns) as a quantity," Gross said. "If you put the quantities (nouns) in, things that are difficult for students to see abstractly become simpler to understand."
As another example, he said, if you ask students what the number three is, they will often hold up three fingers.
"A quantity is a noun phrase that consists of a number (three is the adjective) that modifies a noun (the unit is fingers)," Gross said. "Our approach is to introduce numbers in the same way that people use them, as adjectives that modify nouns. This allows students to see numbers in a much more concrete way. They also learn that three is not always equal to three when we are talking about three inches and three feet. Adjectives are not enough."
A second-grade teacher from Riverside Elementary School in Elmira, attended his second workshop in August, one of five Riverside teachers who attended. He said there were times in the past when he had trouble reaching certain students when teaching math. "I was doing everything I was supposed to do, but I realized after working with Herb that I was doing a lot of 'how to' and having the students memorize rules, but I was never telling them why they got the results they did. It wasn't fun and exciting for them."
After his first workshop in 2015, the local teacher changed the way he taught math. "I had a class of students in the last school year who were successful in math and learned to love math because I was using ideas I learned in the workshop," he said. "The students complained there was not enough math homework."
A teacher at Winfield Elementary School in Corning, attended her third workshop during the summer so she could brush up on her skills before moving from first-graders to second-graders this fall. About 10 teachers in her school have attended the workshop.
"We have found since language is what students learn first, if we can put some words with the numbers, it makes more sense to them," she said.
So far, teacher feedback has been consistently positive because of the strong partnership Corning has developed with Herb and his teaching partners.
"Herb's approach builds teacher knowledge and confidence. By the end of the workshops, the teachers talk about how much more comfortable they feel in being able to present math in a way their students will understand and embrace," said Sharkey. "We are building a stronger math foundation for students before they go to middle school, particularly in understanding fractions, which is critically important not only for STEM fields but for any career choice that requires confidence in math skills.
"We are excited about the changes we are seeing and look forward to seeing the results as students move into the upper grades."