George Lucas Educational Foundation

Integrating Integers Across Disciplines

At this school, math is embedded throughout the curriculum and throughout the school day.
Ken Ellis
Former Executive Producer, video , Edutopia
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VIDEO: Continuing Education Adds Up

Running Time: 10 min.

Eager students, sharpened No. 2 pencils at the ready, anxiously await their math teacher's next challenge: "OK, the problem is 133 take away 87. You have to do it at least three ways. Take three minutes of private think time." The groans and giggles quickly fade to industrious silence as the students, teachers of every subject and grade level at Fullerton IV Elementary School, in Roseburg, Oregon, set to the task of thinking differently. Each teacher must find new and exciting ways -- beyond simply putting the number 87 and a minus sign under the number 133 -- to solve the routine math problem.

Math coach Mike Gould helps teachers find new ways to solve problems.

Credit: Edutopia

The themes of this teacher-training session are scrawled on red cards posted on the board: "Mistakes Start New Learning" and "There's More than One Method." "We've come to the realization that everybody can learn mathematics," says workshop leader and school math coach Mike Gould. "It's not a question of capacity anymore; it's a question of how you deliver it and how you allow people to think about it. With the leadership of organizations like the National Science Foundation, there's been a lot of research put into curriculums and programs that help everybody learn."

Linda Dwight, a fifth-grade math teacher, agrees.

Credit: Edutopia

"Before, we taught the algorithms: You do this first; you do this next. Kids had no understanding of what they were doing," notes Dwight. "Today, we tear these problems apart, into pieces. The kids really understand and have a number sense of why the problem works the way it does."

Fullerton principal Mickey Garrison has championed the math curriculum and an emphasis on cross-disciplinary teacher training. "To me, math is not just a subject," Garrison says. "It really allows kids to learn how to reason and problem solve and learn how to effectively communicate. And if they can think conceptually, it opens up not just math; it makes connections for them in the real world. It allows them to explore music and art. It's all about rhythm and pattern. And if you can get kids to make that association, they have a new way of thinking about what it is they're thinking about."

Using plot points on a grid, students try to “sink a battleship” in computer lab.

Credit: Edutopia

At Fullerton, students can't help but think about math. It is embedded throughout the curriculum and throughout the school day in the computer labs students participate in before school, first-period "Calendar Math" (daily math problems based on the day of the month), art, where the concepts of symmetry and pattern drive creativity, and music class during the last period of the day, where thirty minutes of pedagogical alchemy can turn a study of M. C. Escher images and the concept of positive and negative numbers into quarter notes and quarter rests -- the sound and silence of music.

The immersion approach to teaching math has led to dramatically improved test scores and national recognition for Fullerton as one of twenty Intel "Schools of Distinction." The accomplishments are even more remarkable, considering challenges such as large class size (one fifth-grade class holds thirty-five students) and moderate income (60 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch). "Something feels good here," says math coach Mike Gould. "People value mathematics, and they also value that all people can learn mathematics. They're working very hard at finding ways to bring everybody into the picture."

Fullerton students measure the length of the Titanic on a street near the school.

Credit: Edutopia

"Everybody" includes the handful of students in Steph Neyhart's Alternative Learning Center, a special class for students with emotional problems and other medical or behavior issues that can be barriers to learning in a regular classroom. One class project, a study of the RMS Titanic, began as a reading assignment. "But in the process, we came up with all this math," notes Neyhart. "We discovered that the Titanic was 882 1/2 feet long. We knew that was big, but we had no way to put that into context."

Together, the class decided to pace off the distance on a street adjoining the school, dragging hundred-foot lengths of string behind them. Ignoring barking dogs, moving garbage cans out of their path, their strides unsure at times, Neyhart's kids ultimately measured up to the task, all 882 1/2 feet of it. Standing at the top of a knoll, the students peered down several blocks at the small sign marking their starting point. "Wow, that's a long way," said one. "Gee," Neyhart mused, "how do you think a ship that big can float? Maybe that's our next investigation."

"They like the problem solving and learning to look at things in different ways, because these kids do look at things in different ways," says Neyhart. "These are also hands-on learners, and they prefer to be doing things when they're learning, and so it gets them very excited about it. They love math."

Whether it's teaching challenged students or training talented teachers, Fullerton principal Garrison believes that unleashing the power of math can work wonders. "My personal belief is, if you can problem solve in life, you can do anything you want."

For more information about the strategies used to implement the math curriculum at Fullerton IV Elementary School, read an interview transcript with Principal Mickey Garrison.

Ken Ellis is the former executive producer of Edutopia video.

Comments (7) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Whitney Greiner's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Tammy Russmussent is not the only one to hate math only to discover it was the basis for a true passion! It seems that only when we can truly understand and apply subjects to our lives and experiences, can we learn!

Kimberly's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I really enjoyed watching the video and reading the blog about The Magic of Math. I am actually a large proponent of math as an investigation. My school district actually uses the math curriculum called "Investigations." It is a very hands-on math program in which students make meaning from math. The students are able to create their own learning, instead of being fed algorithms from a teacher. My only wish is that my school district found ways to integrate math into every discipline, just like Fullerton IV Elementary!

Ted Wellander's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I loved the video and particularly enjoyed the piece about Steph Neyhart measuring the actual length of the Titanic on the sidewalk in front of school. Both students and teacher experienced a concrete understanding of that distance.

I did something similar with a primary class. While studying the solar system, we created foam board representations of the 9 planets (Pluto was still in the fold at that time), stapled a huge paper sun to the back wall of our school, and then located our planets (mounted on wooden stakes) in proportional distances out across our large back field. We used a scale of 1 ft. = 10,000,000 miles. Mercury was 3.6 feet from the school and Pluto 367 feet back. Then someone asked where the closest star would be. We discovered that Proxima Centauri, on our scale, would be about 471 miles away: the distance from our town, 60 miles from the Canadian boarder in Washington State, to northern California! As well as giving the students a concrete understanding of the location planets in our solar system, the activity gave me a better understanding of the vast distances of space.

I am excited by learning activities that provide discovery for the teacher as well as the students. The math approach at Fullerton IV Elementary School seems to offer this.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Like the teachers at Fullerton IV Elementary School I too teach from the belief that all students can do math. As a high school math teacher the question that I get most often is " Where am I going to need this?". Do you know of any good resources that I can use in order to create investigational projects relating to high school math?

Diane Demee-Benoit's picture
Diane Demee-Benoit
Former Director of Outreach at Edutopia

You should consider incorporating high school math concepts through project-based learning. Here are some articles and videos from that may provide some ideas:

Start by looking at our archive of Project-Based Learning stories.

Geometry in the Real World

A Place for PBL: Envision School's Project Exchange

Structure in Project-Based Learning

An Incredible Journey

Jamie Nixdorf's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a high school math teacher, this is interesting. As I read this, I often found myself thinking about how my classroom would be different if my students had a program like this in elementary and/or middle school. This approach may not work for all kids, but it definitely has to be better than the drill and kill approach still found in math classrooms around the country.

Gemma Graham's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I myself favor reading and writing as keys to life. However, there is no denying that math is the king of reasoning ability. If you can solve a math problem, you should be able to solve any reasoning problem that life will throw at you. casino en ligne

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