During July, the School of Education is conducting a pilot program in early math intervention, the Math for Early Learners Academy (MELA). The brainchild of Dr. Sandi Cooper, professor in math education, the four-week camp targets 4-5 year olds who are entering kindergarten and need help building number sense, based on assessments.
“We are excited to host MELA at the Mayborn Museum, so the children can have informal learning experiences in math while interacting with the museum exhibits, in addition to in-the-classroom curriculum,” Cooper said.
Working with Waco ISD, the program is serving about 17 students from Brook Avenue School. Brook Avenue principal Sarah Pedrotti, a 2005 graduate of the School of Education, said MELA will help these students conquer summer learning loss.
“The students are gaining enrichment in math in a way that they may not get during the summer months,” Pedrotti said. “Math is coming alive for them in different and exciting ways by being in the museum. They will also get to visit the Bear Habitat, and they interacted with Baylor football players, calculating downs and subtracting the yards gained from 10.”
Working with one school will help facilitate the follow-up with students to collect research data, Cooper said. A research team — led by SOE assistant professor Dr. Lakia Scott,and including doctoral candidates Keith Kerschen and Ryann Shelton and, and master’s student Kylie Terry — is working in tandem with the instructors during the summer and will conduct assessments in the schools later. Research findings could magnify the program’s impact.
“We plan to follow them at least until third grade,” Cooper said. “I want to investigate how enhanced experiences with building early number sense makes a difference. If we have data showing this kind of intervention helps children, maybe schools would embrace the idea and offer this kind of program themselves.”
She said schools are more likely to enhance prekindergarten programming because of the passage of House Bill 4 by the 84th Texas Legislature, establishing a grant program to promote the development of high-quality prekindergarten programs.
“I have always had a real passion for math in early grades,” Cooper said. “I believe that’s where children build a foundation, specifically in developing number sense. There is a body of research that supports this, but many do not become concerned this until middle school.”
Principal Pedrotti agreed that the early years are pivotal. “Prekindergarten is such a developmental year and sets the tone for learning,” she said. “These students are gaining a deeper experience in number concepts — the basis of math — by coming to MELA. They are going to be better prepared for math in kindergarten.”
MELA focuses on building number concepts that will propel children for success in math down the road. The curriculum includes lots of counting exercises, using a variety of technologies both new (iPads) and traditional (playdough). In addition, students delved into early number concepts such as one-to-one correspondence and one-more-than or one-less-than. Cooper said the instructors also taught subitizing (visual representations of numbers, such as dominoes) and unitizing (skip counting).
Lead teacher for MELA is Erin Spencer, BSEd ’12, MSEd ’13, who teaches first grade at Castleman Creek Elementary School. In addition, four School of Education seniors serve as MELA teacher assistants – Raven Richard, Alexandria McDonald, Adriana Hernadez, and Catherine LaChey.
“It not only gives these education students a good summer job, but it provides them with a great field experience,” Cooper said. “And it offers a chance to work with pre-K specifically in math.”
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