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Math for Early Learners Academy Expands for Year Two [07/14/2017]

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MELA Class

Hands-on activities help pre-kindergarten students understand numbers.

Research done in kindergarten classrooms has shown that a pilot program of the Baylor School of Education helped young students gain an advantage in math understanding, as compared to their peers.

The Baylor School of Education has launched its second year of the Math for Early Learners Academy (MELA), a summer early-intervention program for early childhood students in Waco ISD.

Last summer the program enrolled one class of 17 students who were entering kindergarten. During the school year, the MELA research team evaluated the children’s progress in early fall and late spring of the school year.

MELA assessment

Dr. Sandi Cooper conducts an assessment during the first week of MELA on the Baylor campus.

“Midway through the fall semester, we conducted an assessment of all the kindergarten children at Brook Avenue Elementary, including our MELA students,” said Dr. Sandi Cooper, professor of mathematics education in the Department of Curriculum & Instruction and founder and director of MELA. “From those results we saw that our MELA students were ahead of their peers, which we expected in the short term.”

Cooper said that researchers gave another assessment at the end of April. “Once again, we saw that the MELA students were ahead of their peers, without any other intervention during the school year,” Cooper said. “We were very pleased that MELA gave them a boost that kept them moving forward in mathematics learning throughout the entire academic year.”

The research team, led by Cooper, includes Curriculum & Instruction faculty members Dr. Rachelle Rogers, Dr. Lakia Scott, and Dr. Trena Wilkerson and doctoral students Keith Kerschen and Ryann Shelton.

Funded by the School of Education, MELA expanded to three classes this summer, including two classes of rising kindergarteners and a second-year class of the students from last summer, who are now entering first grade. The 28 students enrolled are from Brook Avenue and South Waco Elementary Schools. The program works in partnership with Waco ISD and the Mayborn Museum with community connections through Prosper Waco. Working with WISD Curriculum Coordinators Gayla Reid and Ebony Cousins, the MELA teaching staff implements a research-based curriculum with supporting activities to meet the needs of each student. Waco ISD provides transportation and part-time staff help. Support from the principals — Sarah Alderete Pedrotti, BSEd ’05, at Brook Avenue and Twanna Lee at South Waco — has been pivotal to the program’s success, Cooper said.

MELA Classes

Baylor School of Education graduate Emily Draper is one of three lead teachers for MELA.

MELA is a four-week program, lasting from July 10 – August 4, at the Mayborn Museum on the Baylor campus. The museum provides important opportunities for informal math learning, Cooper said. “The Mayborn provides appropriate classrooms with little-people chairs and tables, but also the students can venture into the wonderful exhibits,” she said. “We go on number walks throughout the museum, and we are able to go into the exhibits to experience mathematical explorations. In the Native American room, for example, the students can use the drums to count out numbers as they beat rhythms, but also create drum patterns.”

She said the experience of having class on a college campus also has an effect on the students. “Even though they are 4 or 5 years old, they can say they are coming to a university and will start thinking about becoming a Baylor Bear one day,” she said. “It’s never too early.”

Families are invited to a special night where the children show off their work, families can visit with the teachers, and they receive complimentary admission to the Mayborn Museum. Last year, about 85 percent of families were able to attend.

Cooper said that research shows that early math skills are a better predictor of academic success than are reading skills, but that many preschools don’t focus enough on math.

“It’s all about gaining number sense, which is composing and decomposing numbers — more than just counting,” she said. “When you think about the number 5, you can see it as a sum of 3 and 2 or of 4 and 1, and there are sets of five and counting by fives. And five can be found in the real world; for example, a nickel represents the number 5. It’s about understanding what numbers mean, not just rote counting.”

Each MELA classroom has a master teacher, plus teaching assistants who lead small groups of students. The master teachers are Emily Bray Draper, BSEd ’12; Jennifer Williams; and Raven Richard, BSEd ’17.

Teaching Assistants are senior elementary education majors Mandy Hinshaw, Kristen Lanier, Rachel Perry, Emily Taylor, and Anastasia Walton; Loren Losli, senior middle grades science major; Andrea Toledo-Castillo, junior elementary education major; and Katelyn Hamilton, BSEd ’17, in elementary education and master’s candidate.

Teaching Assistant Rachel Perry said that the experience of teaching at MELA has broadened her experience as she prepares to be an educator through the School of Education’s teacher-preparation program. “As a junior, I had field experience teaching high-achieving students in third grade, so this is a big difference, and I am getting a lot of exposure to different age groups and developmental levels,” she said. “I’m excited to come each day! We started the first day with an assessment of where they were, and they learned so much in just the first week. If they have come this far in four days, I can’t wait to see what they do in four weeks.”

For media coverage, please contact Meg Cullar:
Meg_Cullar@baylor.edu   •   254-710-6435


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Founded in 1919, Baylor School of Education ranks among the nation’s top 20 education schools located at private universities. The School’s research portfolio complements its long-standing commitment to excellence in teaching and student mentoring. Baylor’s undergraduate program in teacher education has earned national distinction for innovative partnerships with local schools that provide future teachers deep clinical preparation, while graduate programs culminating in both the Ed.D. and Ph.D. prepare outstanding leaders, teachers and clinicians through an intentional blend of theory and practice.

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