Parents and pupils see practical, fun sides of math


MORE THAN 100 parents, teachers, pupils and administrators recently joined national presenter Beth Kobett and her students for a night of practical math applications at Runnymede Elementary School to celebrate the end of Mathematics Month in Maryland.

Before the March 30 celebration of math, Kobett had gone to Runnymede to give an hourlong presentation, for parents only, on the way math is being taught in schools across the country.

"We live in a country that hasn't had the achievement we've needed compared with other developed countries," said Kobett, who lives in Eldersburg. "When the new standards came out in 1989, we were way below many developed nations."

Kobett said she attributes that to a difference in the way math is looked at and taught.

"Before [the changes began in 1989], the idea was that there was only one way to do math and that was the teacher's way," she said. "But other countries, like Japan and those in Europe, did not have that approach. Now we say that you can end up at the same point but there are a lot of ways to get there."

Kobett stressed that schools must also show students the real-world applications of math.

"When we talk about a perimeter, we are not just talking about a formula but perhaps the fence around our house," she added as an example.

During her first presentation, Kobett had parents doubled over with laughter as she teased, chided and goaded them about their math attitudes.

"Come on," she said, "I want to know how many of you resorted to little tricks to get you through."

Heads nodded in agreement. Kobett emphasized that that was OK. The attitude before was that it was not OK.

"Make math a part of your kids' life at home," she said. "If you're going to buy wallpaper, get them involved."

Parent Tom Hogg had attended the first math night and said he was impressed.

"I thought she was very good," said the Taneytown resident, whose son Byron, 8, was with him for the second session. "She had a unique way of teaching that made it easy for everybody.

"Math has really changed since I was in school," Hogg said. "It's not all memory now. It's more in how we can use math and how we can integrate it into everyday life. When I was in school and we were learning algebra, we really didn't know what it was leading to."

Title I math teacher Claudia DeBoy had a similar story.

"When I took algebra, and we used quadratic equations, we really didn't know where it was going to lead us," she said.

Today, DeBoy, who works with first-, second- and third-grade pupils struggling with math, said she uses practical applications.

"With one student, we used counting our steps down the hall as a way to understand numbers," she said. "I try to relate math to everyday things."

Kobett said the biggest hindrance with math is attitude.

"We have to show that math can be fun," said Kobett, who holds a bachelor's degree in elementary education from the University of Missouri-Columbia and a master's degree from the Johns Hopkins University.

In the cafeteria, Kobett and nearly a dozen of her students from Villa Julie College in Baltimore had tables set up with games that used math. The games had names such as "Math Maps," "Probability Bingo" and "Nimble Calculator."

Villa Julie student Jeanne Everhart worked with two young boys and their father at the table with "Two-Dimensional NIM." The two-player game consists of beans and a board with a chart of three squares down and six squares across.

"NIM is a Chinese logic game," Everhart explained. "You can put one bean down on a square or two beans down. But if you put two beans down, they have to touch. The idea is to be able to put the last one bean or two beans down in a square."

Jean Marie Beall's Northwest neighborhood column appears each Thursday in the Carroll County edition of The Sun.

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