A plan that adds up

Kendrick Brinson/Staff
Tayari Thompson, 13, works on an activity that involves folding a piece of paper and counting the rectangles it makes to learn about exponents in an eighth-grade math class at Sego Middle School.
Correction, September 26, 2007: Because incorrect information was provided to the newspaper, there was an error in a school math problem published in Monday's editions as part of a story on Richmond County's new math action plan. The problem should have read: "Evaluate -2 to the fourth power." The correct answer is 16.
The Augusta Chronicle regrets the error.(Highlight changes)

The old-school way of teaching math doesn't work for everyone.

For example, Brian Clark, 13, said he couldn't grasp the material when it was presented in a lecture, but he can when it's presented visually.

That's why he and his classmates at Augusta's Sego Middle School were folding paper in half, and in half again, to demonstrate exponents. It was a new way to learn an old lesson, and many Richmond County math teachers are developing similar lesson plans.

They say they want to deliver instruction in different ways to accommodate students' varied learning styles.

The method, called differentiated instruction, is part of a comprehensive math action plan the county hopes will raise test scores.

"Differentiated instruction is kind of the buzz word in education right now," said Sego Assistant Principal Sonya Bailey.

Teachers understand that a cookie-cutter approach to math instruction doesn't always work, she said. That's why class material is being delivered in multiple ways and teachers are tailoring homework assignments to the individual student.

A recent three-day external review found that 70 percent of her teachers were relying only on the lecture approach to teaching, Mrs. Bailey said.

Along with changing how they teach, educators are also adjusting what they teach.

The state's new curriculum, the Georgia Performance Standards, is being slowly phased in. When complete, students won't be taking classes called "algebra" or "geometry" any more. Instead, these subjects will be infused a little bit at a time into math classes as early as third grade and will spiral up to high school, Mrs. Bailey said.

As the name of the state's new curriculum suggests, students must demonstrate that they know the standards. So teachers create portfolios of their work that follow them year to year.

"When they can do it, you've taught it," Sego Principal Ronald Wiggins said.

Pupils are given opportunities to demonstrate "mastery" of math in the traditional pen-and-paper methods, but they also have the opportunities to demonstrate in less traditional ways, such as math projects or PowerPoint presentations, Dr. Wiggins said.

Classwork and homework are under review also, Mrs. Bailey said. Math work should be "meaningful" to students, preparing them for state testing and for life rather than simply being busy work.

"We have always had a Math Action Plan that has guided all of the decisions made regarding mathematics in our district," Richmond County Math Coordinator Shelly Allen wrote in an e-mail.

Countywide, the plan helps with the implementation of the state's new math curriculum in kindergarten through eighth grade and prepares for the new curriculum in high school, she said. It also provides monitoring so that educators can adjust instruction through the year according to how pupils are performing prior to state testing in April.

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.

How would you do?

Here are some questions given to pupils as a "daily assessment" to see if they understood the day's lesson:

Questions

1. Write in exponential form: n times n times n times n

2. Write in exponential form: negative 8 times negative 8 times negative 8 times h

3. Evaluate -2 to the fourth power.

4. Evaluate x times z minus y to the x power for x = 5, y = 3, z = 6

5. A population of bacteria doubles every five minutes. The number of bacteria after five minutes is 15 times 2 to the fifth power. How many bacteria are there after 5 minutes?

The solutions

1. n4

2. -83h

3. 16

4.-213

5. 480

Source: Jennifer W. Fuller, Sego Middle School eighth-grade math teacher