Two plus two will still equal four, but a new approach to teaching math need not put parents at a disadvantage trying to help the kids with homework, assured Dr. Clayton LaCoe, Wallenpaupack’s District STEM Supervisor.

WALLENPAUPACK - Two plus two will still equal four, but a new approach to teaching math need not put parents at a disadvantage trying to help the kids with homework, assured Dr. Clayton LaCoe, Wallenpaupack’s District STEM Supervisor.
(STEM refers to Science Technology Engineering Mathematics.)

Along with Dr. LaCoe, Ms. Lisa Tait, District English/Language Arts Supervisor spoke on progress with implementing the American Reading Company (ARC) program in grades K-6. They were introduced by Dr. R. Jay Starnes, Director of Curriculum, Instruction & Assessment, giving an update to the Wallenpaupack School Board, Feb. 12.

Starnes said that this all part of the district comprehensive plan worked on year. The plan was approved by the PA Department of Education.

The rationale, he said, “We want all our students leaving here with a career education plan, we want them to be problem solvers, to be able to apply what they are learning here… to have a deep understanding of citizenship, what it means to be a good human being, to understand math conceptually and be able to apply it to problem solving at or above grade level, to be able to read, write, speak, listen- to be literate at or above grade level.”

LaCoe explained that this part of STEM education is rarely discussed. “It is really the nitty gritty of what it means to be numerically literate.” He said a lot of the math that we learned was procedural. “We memorized a lot of things, we forgot a lot of things,” he said. “We come to gather mathematical knowledge in a haphazard way.”

Expectations for their students in the early 21st century are very different, he told the board. “We had to take stock in what we were doing mathematically…. over the course of the next three years we will offer professional development to our teachers in a really deep and comprehensive way.”

Training will start with K- 2nd grade. All K-2 teachers, he said, will be shown what it really means to teach a child to add and subtract and develop “number sense.”
This training will occur in late spring, coached by Mrs. Elizabeth Holbert. A credit course will be offered in the summer as a follow-up. In the fall the K-12 teachers will have her back, coaching in the classroom.

In Year 2 they will look at multiplication and division, followed by fractions and proportions.

“The goal here is for our students as they leave 6th grade to be really ready for that first algebra course,” LaCoe said, and to get away from the procedural nature of the textbooks.

“That is a huge part of the STEM plan we have in place, is to change the way our kids think about how they approach mathematics. They will focus on logic and reasoning, rather than procedures,” he said.

Board member John Kiesendahl offered an observation and concern that few parents or grandparents will be able to help the students with homework.

LaCoe replied that this is a good question, stating that they will have opportunity to sit with parents and talk about the changes. “One of the real issues is just what you mentioned, there is a tension and a frustration when a child sits across from Mom or Dad and says, ‘That’s not how we were told to do it’ and Mom or Dad says, ‘I don’t have any idea what that means and this is how I did it…’”

LaCoe said that they have to plan to address this.

John Drake, board member, asked if actually doing the equations so radically different? LaCoe stated that what they have done is a lot of procedure without a lot of explanation. He said that how we have understood math is not left out, but is at the pinnacle of the trajectory. “Rather than skipping to the end and say, ‘Oh, here’s the short cut,’ we’ll say, ‘Why does that short cut work.’”

He said parents will be able to help their kids. “It’s not an abandoning of traditional mathematics,” LaCoe said. “it’s a conversation about what it means…”

Superintendent Michael Silsby said that the faculty have embraced the idea and training.