Workshop shows teachers how to engage students in mathematics

Kim Sutton of Creative Mathematics is known for offering conceptual understanding of subject

June 09, 2011|By MAEGAN CLEARWOOD |
  • Williamsport Elementary School teacher Tara Myers goes through an exercise using a number line at a two-day seminar held at Next Dimensions by Creative Mathematics.
By Yvette May, Staff Photographer

Kim Sutton created a makeshift classroom for her mathematics workshop this week, filling the Next Dimensions event hall with bouncing music and vibrant, laminated posters.

Her students, more than 200 elementary teachers, laughed and sang along as they took notes.

An elementary school teacher, Sutton has published 17 books, many of which are used in Washington County classrooms. She works with Creative Mathematics, a company that sells teaching resources and sponsors educational lectures.

Sutton teaches seminars in North America and Australia, and visited from California this week for a two-day workshop on hands-on math education.

Sutton's husband asked about doing a workshop earlier this year after he noticed how many materials Washington County Public Schools ordered, according to Kara Reed, county schools supervisor for elementary math and science.

"Her books and resources are really aligned with supporting conceptual understanding of math for students," she said. "They're not just drilling, which isn't something kids need in the 21st century. They need to learn how numbers work together."

The workshop was sponsored by Creative Mathematics, and the school system only had to pay registration funds, Reed said.

Teachers weren't paid to attend the workshop, but earned Maryland State Department of Education credit and a packet overflowing with worksheets and materials.

"We've had a tremendous outpouring. It's summertime, and these teachers are here, laughing, having a good time, learning about activities to implement. It's a great opportunity to see (Sutton) in action," Mary Ann Nussear said. "We hope they leave excited about math so that their kids are excited about math."

Nussear and Beth Brandenburg, who are county schools curriculum specialists for math, are huge fans of Sutton's work.

"Her books are hands-on, teacher-friendly. They're things kids get excited about. They're not your run-of-the-mill textbooks," Brandenburg said.

Although both days were scheduled to run from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., Sutton was a ball of energy, leading her "class" in exercises, games and songs.

"I love working with elementary teachers because they have such a love of teaching. Enthusiasm is a very powerful thing. You can feel the energy in the room. I don't create the energy. They came with it all," she said.

According to Potomac Heights Elementary School kindergarten teacher Lura Norris, making math interesting is crucial for young children.

"It's the active engagement, getting up and moving," she said. "That's what good teachers do. Kids are acrobats. They have short attention spans. You have to keep them moving and actively engaged."

Norris and Pangborn Elementary School kindergarten teacher Lisa Idol are members of the Math Institute, a resource for teachers to share educational resources and ideas. According to Idol, there are major, national curriculum changes on the way, making workshops like this especially useful.

For Sutton, teaching goes both ways; she has learned valuable lessons from her students over the years.

"If there's one thing I've learned from 34 years of teaching, it's if a child tells you something is stupid, you'd better listen," she said.

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