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Murray Journal

Parkside community learns, embraces Greg Tang Math approach

May 02, 2019 02:19PM ● By Julie Slama

During the day, Parkside Elementary students learned educational math games, which they returned to school that night to play with their families. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

What happens when you add one part daytime instruction and add another part evening engagement? 

It’s a sum large enough to involve the entire Parkside Elementary community in embracing math.

Parkside Elementary Title I math coach Trish Syversen recently invited Greg Tang Math instructors to the school to engage teachers in math professional development while students attended math assemblies and learned educational math games. Later that night, families were invited to play math games and even took home math cards so they could continue playing together.

“This is a way for us to understand and get past the scary thought of math,” Syversen said. “It’s not memorization and repetition, but understanding the concept, breaking it down so it’s easier to conceptualize. Once students understand, they will build confidence and be able to do it again and again, using the same pattern over and over.”

For example, Greg Tang, Jr., who started the company with his dad, showed teachers how to do the same procedure with the same steps of what they could learn in first grade as what they would do in fourth. 

“We identify the item and draw the groups,” he said. “This strategy works from kindergarten all the way through life. It’s the same model from simple addition to multi-step operations. It makes sense. When students understand the model, they can be more successful in math.”

The Tang methodology of teaching arithmetic is a visual approach that includes both computational and problem-solving strategies, so students are able to break apart the math problem into manageable parts and apply the method.

Tang used an example where there are five bags of three jelly beans in each bag. After identifying the item, jellybeans, he then drew out five bags, labeling them B1 through B5, each with the numeral three, showing they had three jelly beans in the bag.

In another example, Tang asked teachers this problem: The sum of two numbers is 36. The first number is twice the second number. Find the second number.

“Instead of students just selecting random numbers to test, break it down and show them how to set it up,” he said. “Take the concept and apply it everywhere. It’s a strategy that works.”

He illustrated by writing N1 for the first number with two boxes, meaning it was twice as large as N2 with one box.

Fourth-grade teacher MacKenzie Erger said it should help students.

“Most kids are drawing out equations, making them visual so it will be real to them,” she said. “Once we start teaching this concept in kindergarten, they can use the strategy all the way through school.”

First-grade teacher Hannah Schulthess said that she’s excited to use the approach.

“It just clicks,” she said. “Conceptualizing math may help students understand it and get excited about it. Once they know the procedure and how and when to use it, they can recreate it and think of the relationship of numbers to be successful.”

Colleague Cal Beck said he’s been using the approach now for four years.

“I’d love to walk into a building in a dream scenario and see the community involved in this approach,” he said. “I love the fact that kids are excited and that we’re investing in kids and their parents in skills that will springboard into a lifetime of learning.”

While grade-level teachers met with Tang to learn the approach, students gathered in the multi-purpose room to try solving math puzzles and games using the method. First-graders, like Karsen Richins, played board games where they learned to match the number they had rolled on the die to a numeral or the number written out.

“I like matching it to the dice,” he said. “I like math. It’s fun.”

Older grades matched money such as a drawing of a quarter, the word quarter and $.25.

Parkside’s math coach Syversen said that it was helping build math fact fluency through fun approaches. Some of those same games were also ones that engaged families in the evening. Students also can play the games at home or log onto Greg Tang Math for free to practice online challenges.

“We want kids to learn the facts at home and understand the concepts, not just think they’re magic tricks, but really understand,” she said. “We want kids to problem solve, reason, have a fun way to practice that engages them.”

Faith Tademy brought her kindergartner Priscilla Quiles back to school to participate in family math night.

“We played a game where she had to find the written word for the number,” she said. “It was fun to do it together.”

First-grader Ethan Altidor and his mother, Erline, also played math games together.

“The games are very fun,” Erline Altidor said. “We started by matching the numbers, but he wanted more challenge, so we played two more games. They can get pretty hard, but he was having fun.”

First-grader Ashley Gonzalez was excited.

“I’m having fun and I want to play at my house with my mom,” she said.

Principal Brian Dawes said the event was not only a shift in the educational approach, but also in the attitude.

“A lot of times, kids develop a (negative) attitude about math, but this was just the opposite,” he said. “Kids are playing games, learning, practicing and trying to win. It’s a positive competitiveness, where everyone wins and nobody loses. They’re engaged, they’re listening and even laughing. It’s a room of kids doing math and having fun at it.”