Schools help make math, science fun

Jennifer Burke/Catholic Courier    |    12.20.2009
Category: Back to School


IRONDEQUOIT -- Kindergartner Bennett Kukla stood behind a table, explaining two math games to the children and adults who approached to play them. Bennett, a student at St. Louis School in Pittsford, had created the games after reading about an idea for similar games in a children's activity book, he said.

In the Place Value Game, players had to answer a question, such as "the number 4,038 has how many hundredths?" in order to advance, he said. In the other game, players had to correctly answer a math problem. It had taken him a few days to develop the two games, but Bennett was ready to show them off during the first annual Monroe County Catholic Schools Math Fair, which was held May 1 at Christ the King School.

Bennett has progressed beyond kindergarten-level math, said Kelly Kanaley, St. Louis kindergarten teacher. Kanaley's own children, Zach and Mackey, also attend the school and presented their own game at a table across the gym from Bennett. Meteor Math, a board game with an outer-space theme, required players to roll the dice and answer multiplication and division problems before moving along the board.

More than 100 students in kindergarten through eighth grade from 10 Monroe County Catholic schools participated in the math fair, said Darlene Ryan, chairman of the Monroe County Catholic Schools Board. The school board's Academic Excellence Committee planned the math fair as a way to reinforce the creative use of math and make it fun for children, Ryan said.

"We wanted to promote math as ... something that really is important in life but can be a fun thing," she said.

During the fair, students displayed math-related games they'd created or posters they'd made to show the results of their math-related research. One group of students from St. Andrew's School in Rochester had surveyed their peers and then analyzed and interpreted the results to find out the students' favorite singers and sports. Another group from St. Margaret Mary School in Irondequoit had worked with fractions, percentages, learned about taxes and compared prices in order to find out how much it would cost to put on a birthday party for a fellow student.

Putting these games and presentations together ensures that the students understand the math concepts that they've learned, said Carolyn Wagner, reading teacher at St. Louis.

"They can't apply it if they don't understand it," Wagner said. "We're hoping to take the fear out of math."

The math fair was so successful that another is already planned for next year, said Sister of St. Joseph Margaret Mancuso, diocesan assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

"Our goal was to get children to understand that math is ... something you're going to use your whole life. We need to make it meaningful for them," Sister Mancuso said.

Diocesan Catholic schools focus on different academic areas at different times, and lately the focus has been on math. This is partly because the state's math standards have been changing in recent years and partly because of a $25,000 grant the diocesan Department of Catholic Schools received last year from HSBC Bank USA N.A., Sister Mancuso said. The grant money was to be used to improve math programs in diocesan schools.

The diocese has also offered several math-related professional-development opportunities to its teachers in recent months, she added.

Many schools have also made science a top priority. Several of the inner-city Catholic schools have been using the ScienceStart! curriculum in their preschool programs (see related story on page B6), she said. Developed by researchers at the University of Rochester, the program emphasizes science as the key to building knowledge and skills, and classroom activities are built around science and active investigation.

Mary Beall involved her students in the Cornell Science Inquiry Program when she taught at St. Patrick's School in Seneca Falls and plans to continue that involvement when she begins teaching at the new St. John Bosco School, which was formed when St. Patrick's and St. Mary's School in Waterloo merged at the end of the 2004-05 school year. Through this program, Cornell University graduate students come into the classroom, working with younger students to help them learn through inquiry and experimentation.

Course offerings at Catholic high schools within the diocese also show an emphasis on science and math. Nazareth Academy in Rochester offers ASCENT, a series of pre-engineering classes, and DeSales High School in Geneva offers such classes as forensic science, astronomy and the geology of the Finger Lakes. Elmira Notre Dame High School is in the process of constructing a new science wing, which will include laboratory and lecture space.

"We're trying to prepare the students for the future, so when they enter the work force they're prepared," Sister Mancuso said. "We're moving with the times."

 

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