Paper, pencils and playing cards

Kevin Reinthal, Lucas Schools, explains a game he created to other Math Teacher Leaders during a professional development session.

A life-long love of teaching has led to some innovative ways to reach and engage children. Kevin Reinthal taught in a fourth-grade classroom in the Lucas school district for 25 years. He now serves as a Math Teacher Leader for the school district.

Reinthal spends half of his time in a kindergarten classroom, and the remainder working with teachers to develop activities that engage the students in the math concepts they are studying.  These games are used to introduce new concepts to students, and reinforce those that they have already seen.  Reinthal has developed half a dozen games already by looking for common activities that can be adapted to fit the needs of the classroom.

“One of the teachers had brought in a gameboard with a circle,” he said. “I immediately thought, ‘we can make that into a place value activity where we change the number of sections in each circle to have base four, base six, or base ten, and you could work with the primary kids just by playing that game.’ It reinforces the idea that the value of a digit is different according to where it is in the number.”

Reinthal’s games have ranged from supporting primary students in their understanding of place value, to approaching fourth-grade division with the use of low-tech, easy to find items, such as playing cards and paper and cardstock instead of tradition manipulative materials such as base ten blocks. Not only are these games helpful to the students in learning the math content, but they also make math an enjoyable subject for them to learn. They provide a way for the students to be actively involved in their own learning, and they can be modified to use in many different grades.

Reinthal’s most recent work is being done with subtraction using a number line. Rather than approaching subtraction with the common removal method, the number line is used to compare the distance between two numbers.  These games that Reinthal creates provide exciting new ways of looking at and learning math concepts in the classroom, and many other teachers in the MLI cohorts are beginning to use them in their district schools too.

New perspectives

When Sydney Conley was completing her methods courses at the Ohio State University at Mansfield, she was not particularly fond of the Algebra Project training she was receiving. However, after going on to teach at a Mansfield charter school, Prospect elementary, and Butler in the Clear Fork school district, she came to realize there is no other method she would rather use in her classroom.

“Throughout that [5 years of college] I was just like, ‘I don’t think so.'” “When I stared applying [the Algebra Project] with methods and student teaching…I saw how the kids could take it and run with it.  They can really flourish with letting them discover what you’re trying tot teach.”

The core of Math Literacy and the Algebra Project is allowing students to take an active role in their own education. With this kind of instruction, they build their own ideas about how mathematics operates through experience and discussion. Conley began using Algebra Project instruction while teaching at a Mansfield charter school. When she transferred to Prospect Elementary in the Mansfield school district, this instruction became the foundation on which her students understood mathematics.

“[Instruction] was all Algebra Project, 5-step lesson, and I can say that my third graders last year completely understood the connection between area and perimeter because we did this Math Literacy lesson.”

When Conley made another transfer to teach Kindergarten at Butler, Math Literacy lessons made a huge impact in the engagement of her students as well. She used the winding game with her kindergarteners to teach the base-ten system, and they exceeded expectations.

“I couldn’t believe how much I had participation through my class. I was because they got to do it, they got to partake, and take ownership.”

Conley’s students were also using other methods they had learned in their classroom during their shared experience without being prompted. In her classroom, the students count to 100 every day. As they are counting, they clap their hands on each multiple of ten. Conley mentioned that as her students were playing the winding game, every time someone walked past ten chairs, the students would clap their hands without being asked.

“From learning about Algebra Project to now, I would’ve said, ‘absolutely I would never do this in a kindergarten classroom,’ when I started college. And now, I would’ve never thought kindergarten could do this, but they did it better than my expectations.”

However, one of the more difficult components of implementing  the Algebra Project instruction is letting the students form their own ideas without help. Conley mentioned that she had not been taught with the Algebra Project as she completed her schooling, which made it more difficult to understand how the students she would teach could come to master mathematics.

“Giving them the answer is contradictory to what Algebra Project is. You’re supposed to let them come up with something.”

Even though this method of instruction did not come easily to Conley at first, she now finds it to be completely worth while.


Kindergarteners teach the winding game

The goal of Math Literacy is to challenge students to take charge of their own learning and form their own ideas about how mathematics operates. Kimberly Ison’s Crestview kindergarten class certainly did just that.

Ison introduced the winding game with her class using numbers one to ten, and the students absolutely loved it. After discussing the success of the lesson with another kindergarten teacher, Ison arranged for her own students to pass along the new interactive game to another class.

“They went in and taught her classroom how to play it. They showed them a couple times, and then we had her class try it  and they were able to do it,” Ison said.

After seeing their success in teaching the winding game to the other class, Ison’s students were very proud and excited, and they wanted to keep teaching the game to more classrooms.

“To my knowledge in the history of our Math Literacy Program, this is the first time students have taught other students a grounding metaphor,” Co-director Terri Bucci said. “It’s excited to see how they have embraced a mathematical principle.”

Math is so often categorized under a specific stereotype of difficult, boring, complicated, not applicable, and overall unenjoyable. Stories such as this one are so remarkable to hear because they prove this stereotype wrong. Learning math is interesting and fun to these kindergarteners because they are taking ownership of their education. It becomes even more fun when they can teach what they have learned to other students to help them form ideas about math. We hope to see many many more classrooms look like Mrs. Ison’s in the future.

Teacher voice: Amy Bradley

“I struggled with mathematics my entire life.  I did not enjoy teaching it because I lacked confidence in my own knowledge and skills. In 2012, I began participating in the Math Literacy Initiative. At first, I was skeptical.  It was so different than any other methodology for mathematics.

Under the guidance of Dr. Terri Bucci and Dr. Lee McEwan, I not only have become a better teacher of mathematics, but a better mathematician. Yes, I actually consider myself a mathematician.  I no longer shy away from attempting mathematical problems and I love teaching math to my students.

Now, I am a Math Teacher Leader in my school building and I’m working toward my Doctorate in Leadership studies with a cognate focused on math education and pre-service teaching, all thanks to the Math Literacy Initiative and the collaborative efforts of Mansfield City Schools and The Ohio State University at Mansfield.”

Amy Bradley, K-1 grade teacher
Mansfield City School District