#### District launches pilot math program.

By: Lea Kahn

Aiming to improve elementary school students’ mathematical ability, school district officials are experimenting with a new approach to math education developed by Clemson University.

The Math Out of the Box program creates "scripted" lessons and presents teachers with a structured way to present math concepts in the elementary schools, said Lawrence Township Superintendent of Schools Max Riley.

It is being tried out in a few K-5 classrooms this month.

Math Out of the Box is patterned after the "E=MC2" hands-on approach to teaching elementary science in the Lawrence schools, Dr. Riley said. Adopted by the Lawrence schools in the early 1990s, E=MC2 revolutionized the teaching of science in the district and it is hoped that Math Out of the Box will do the same, he said.

In both the math and science programs, teachers are supplied with kits that contain everything they need to teach the lessons. The math kits contain an assortment of materials needed to teach specific math lessons, such as how fractions work, Dr. Riley said.

"With a rapidly changing (student) population, we have to keep looking," Dr. Riley said, adding that a variety of strategies are needed to teach the diverse student population. The district is satisfied with its language arts literacy program, but not the math program, he said.

Scott Kleinman, the school district’s math Teacher on Special Assignment, agreed that the pilot Math Out of the Box program is similar to the E=MC2 science program in that both are "inquiry based."

Mr. Kleinman, who also teaches basic skills math at Lawrence Intermediate School, continued, "The students have a more hands-on approach. Math Out of the Box gives them more tools to attack a problem from a lot of different perspectives."

For example, students may be asked to identify patterns, he said. They will create patterns by using different shaped objects that come with the math kit. The children learn to connect patterns to real life, he said. Patterns may be the ticking of a clock or the stripes on a shirt.

"Math is really looking at the patterns around us and predicting what will happen in the future," Mr. Kleinman said. "It’s looking at the stock market, how to time a traffic signal and the traffic flow on a street. You can project population growth based on the number of new houses, and then the number of teachers you’ll need. Math is more than balancing a checkbook."

Math Out of the Box encourages students to find their own solutions to a problem, he said. For example, some students may need to place strips on a board and manipulate them, but other students may be able to "conceptualize" the problem and find the solution, he said.

"Some children think sequentially and others think more in the abstract," he said. "Some learn better through movement. They need to physically manipulate items to make sense to them. According to the developers of Math Out of the Box, it addresses all of these different ways of thinking about a problem."

The students also will be asked to write down how they arrived at the solution, Mr. Kleinman said. That is a skill which is needed on the state standardized tests for math, he said. There are open-ended questions on the new tests for third- and fourth-graders, he added.

"We used to teach math by drill, but it no longer meets the needs of children based on how they are being assessed," he said. "We need to give them the tools they need. Math has evolved from drill and memorization to a more open-ended, inquiry-based approach."

Many teachers already use an inquiry-based approach to teaching math, but they may not be using the same materials, Mr. Kleinman said. Math Out of the Box provides all teachers with the same books and supplies, he said, adding that it ensures that the children receive a common educational experience.

"It’s getting everyone on the same page, so to speak," he said. "There will be consistency from year to year. There will be standardized instruction, plus we will increase the amount of writing, reflection and explanation. Writing is required on the standardized tests, so we will be doing it in the classroom."