MANSFIELD – When 22-year-old Natalie Sayre of Crestline decided to purse a degree in Early Childhood Education at The Ohio State University at Mansfield, she knew she wanted to help change and mold young lives.
However, she had no idea that she would learn a new way of teaching math that is part of an effort to change the way local students are learning and open up endless possibilities for their futures.
“In class at Ohio State Mansfield, as I was learning this different approach on how to teach math to young kids, I thought ‘Why didn’t I know this as a kid?’ When I was a kid I was never good at math,” said Sayre. “This approach would have helped me.”
Early Childhood Education and Middle Childhood Education students at Ohio State Mansfield take courses that teach them this new approach thanks to the Math Literacy Initiative (MLI). MLI centers on a five-step process that focuses on instructional strategies, content knowledge and classroom culture, allowing teachers to step out of a structured lesson and into a world of nurturing students’ own language and understanding of mathematics.
“It’s almost like teaching backwards. This approach lets the students discover what they are going to be learning that day,” said Sayre. “I know once I become a teacher, I will absolutely use this process in my lessons. I think it’s definitely a way kids can better understand math.”
Ohio State Mansfield’s Math Literacy Initiative originally started in 2009 as a partnership between Ohio State Mansfield and Mansfield Senior High through a National Science Foundation Grant related to the Algebra Project under direction of co-Director, Dr. Lee McEwan. The Algebra Project is a national U.S. mathematics literacy effort aimed at helping low-income and minority students successfully achieve mathematical skills that are a prerequisite for a college preparatory mathematics sequence in high school. After success using the learning strategies with the first cohort of 9th-grade students, the MLI project in Mansfield grew. Today, MLI provides ongoing teacher professional development in the region on this mathematics education approach, along with instructing current students at Ohio State Mansfield. Students from Ohio State Mansfield also take mathematics courses that are taught using this approach and are paired with MLI-trained teachers for their methods placement.
“That is an unusual aspect,” said Ohio State MLI Co-Director Terri Bucci. “There is a connection of shared values with the views of preservice and inservice teachers in regards to the math instruction.”
Research shows that struggling students in third and fourth grade begin a descent in mathematics, especially when they start working on multiplication, division and fractions.
“This project is really important because elementary and middle school students are underperforming in mathematics,” said Bucci. “One reason is the belief that they are not good at math. MLI works with teacher education students and current teachers in the community on changing the culture of the way mathematics is taught from a teacher-directive perspective to a student-ownership perspective. Students who are able to communicate mathematically are able to develop a deeper conceptual understanding of math. Requiring students to justify their solution strategies and answers and debate with one another engages students with math and allows them to discover and make connections within the math.”
Sayre will start student teaching this fall in a 3rd-grade class in Lexington. She’s been preparing lessons using the MLI principles, and knows she’s going to be touching young students at a critical time in their math development.
“I think it’s pretty cool that I’m going to be able to help my community in this way,” said Sayre. “I can’t wait to put to use what I’ve learned. I’m really excited.”
“Teachers who graduate from Ohio State Mansfield are in demand in our region because area superintendents know this approach works,” said Bucci. “It’s really great to see future and current teachers in our region get excited about teaching math, and how that is helping young people in elementary and middle school succeed.”