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Mickey Garrison


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"Learning occurs best when concepts are connected," Mickey Garrison told Education World. "Mathematics is a foundational skill that is related to science, art, musicand it becomes much more meaningful when related to those other subjects."

As principal of Fullerton IV Elementary in Roseburg, Oregon, Garrison has put to the test her belief in the importance of math. She has spearheaded an immersion program that brings mathematics into the teaching of all aspects of the curriculum. For example, teachers in her school have used positive and negative numbers to help students study musical notation, incorporated symmetry into art projects, and paced off the length of the Titanic during a social studies unit.

"One of my favorite stories is about a fourth grade girl who approached me about having a Math Salsa Night, so parents could experience how math is an essential part of music," recalled Garrison. "The family night event was a huge success with over 90 percent of our families experiencing math through music."

Fullerton's teachers see the direct benefit of the math immersion program for their students through increased learning and achievement. Staff members are excited because they see students who are excited about learning.

"In one first grade classroom, the teacher directed students to make a number story about the number 60," Garrison reported. "A girl raised her hand and said, 'That's easy. All you have to do is add 5+5+5+5...' The teacher said, 'I'm lost. How many 5's do I need to add?' The student answered, 'Well, twelve of course.' The teacher responded, 'Tell me about your thinking.' The student said, "Ten 5's would be 50, so you need two more 5's to equal 60.' That story captures the power of teaching students connected concepts and a deeper understanding of their thought process."

Staff meetings at Garrison's school are specifically designed for staff development. Staff members train one another in new techniques and math challenges. In addition, the district math coach has worked in the school for a trimester, modeling, co-teaching, and meeting with staff to hone their math skills. The Roseburg Public Schools also are involved in a three-year extensive math project sponsored by the National Science Academy.

"I've been most impressed with our students' ability to communicate their thinking and challenge their own and/or others' thinking," reported Garrison. "Mathematics has become a vehicle to problem solving."

Garrison recommends that schools interested in math immersion programs stay focused, and provide ongoing support for staff and families. "Use existing time in staff meetings to allow staff to share, learn, and grow," she advises. "Be creative about how to include families and offer repeated opportunities for them to be exposed to your approach."

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If you're a teacher who has completed an interesting or unusual activity with your class -- or if you know of a teacher who has -- please let us know about it. E-mail a brief description of the activity, along with your contact information, to [email protected].

Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
Copyright © 2006 Education World

08/04/2006