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Heartwarming energy and fun in math

|   By Pat Hennessy
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WILTON—“Work hard. Stay focused. And Do…Your…Best!”

The first and second graders at Our Lady of Fatima School in Wilton repeat this mantra every time they change stations in their Personalized Learning math class.

Although they are learning to master different math skills, the Personalized Learning Initiative allows these two young grades to work in the same classroom at the same time under the instruction of teacher Mariah Berrios and aide Lisa Strmecki.

“Personalized Learning allows the students to follow individualized instruction on their grade path,” explains Principal Stanley Steele. This flexibility allows second graders to work on math and English Language Arts with first graders and later join third graders for social studies and religion.

The two math paths are most easily seen at the Manipulation Station, one of the locations students rotate through during the session. First grader Blake pulls a random card from a pack. The card holds the equation 11-8. Blake takes 11 plastic cubes from a basket and stacks them together. After she counts them, she carefully removes 8 of the cubes. Three remain. Once she has that result, she records it on a tablet: 11-8=3.

“First you do the normal addition fact,” she says, looking at her work. “Then you flip it to go one step further.” Checking the blocks to verify her work, she writes: 11-3=8. She will repeat this exercise several times with different cards.

When her time period at the Manipulation Station has concluded, Blake will take her personal QR badge and set to work on an iPad, reinforcing the lesson. Each student at the iPad station works on a different math “game” depending on their skill level.

Later, Blake will join other first graders in a small group exercise with Berrios. This gives Berrios a chance to see how comfortably students have understood today’s lesson. The youngsters quickly work through the equation 13-3=10. With no blocks or other aids to help them, they come up with the related fact: 13-10=3.

“You really know how to make my heart smile,” Berrios tells them.

When the second graders come to the Manipulation Station, they face a more challenging task. Working as a team, Nicholas and Francesco draw cards and blocks from their grade’s basket. These are larger numbers, all double-digits, with the tens represented by rods and the units by blocks. For their first number, 39, they pull out three rods and nine blocks.

They take three cards in all: 39, 28 and 63. After the boys set them out with rods and blocks, they record the numbers from least to largest on a worksheet. They will complete this exercise five times.

When these second graders meet with Berrios, she introduces them to a new topic: rounding up and down. The number line in front of her is like a plastic ruler, except that it goes from 20 to 30. Since this class takes place in December, she places a little Santa Claus figure on number 27. “What 10 is Santa closest to?” she askes them. When they accurately choose 30, she moves the figure again, up and down the line. As a final test, Santa rests on number 25. “What do we do now?” she asks.

The correct answer: “If a number ends in 5, we’re always going to round up.”

Throughout this day’s math session, these young students have handled numbers tactilely and through games, individually and in groups. They have developed a comprehension of the relationship between the equation on the page and the physical reality this represents.

“There’s a wide range of learners here,” concludes Principal Steele. “The smarter ones used to coast. Now they’re all engaged. There’s a dynamic level of energy in this class.”