Math and Music Night at McPolin |

Math and Music Night at McPolin

Taylor Eisenman, of the Record staff

Hands outstretched, the students of McPolin Elementary School waited as Silvia Leavitt, the school’s third- through fifth-grade math and reading specialist, handed out dice for games at Math and Music Night.

Parents and their children were invited to McPolin this past Wednesday to learn new math games and enjoy a preview of Trailside and McPolin elementary schools’ upcoming opera performance, "Lost in the Snow."

Karen Voth, the math specialist for first- and second-graders, organized the evening and found several local companies and organizations to sponsor the event. El Chubasco donated chips and salsa for a snack, and the Men of McPolin (MOMs) bought a bike at cost from Park City Ride for the auction’s grand prize.

"I’ve never done anything like this before," Voth said. "It was a lot of work, but it was worth it."

The night drew more than 100 parents and kids. "It was a good turnout," Leavitt said. "We wanted tonight to involve the kids’ parents and show them what we do as teachers."

McPolin’s principal, Bob Edmiston, said he thought the night was fantastic. "It’s always great to see parents and kids engaging in math," he said. "And I appreciate all the hard work the teachers have done putting this thing together."

Voth explained that these dice and card games were a part of the school’s everyday math ciriculum. "A lot of the time we send these worksheets home," Voth said, pointing to a paper about fact triangles on the table, "but I don’t think they really get paid much attention to. But tonight, everyone’s getting involved."

Leavitt said that not only is it great to build the spirit of community between the parents and the teachers, but they also want to teach the parents the games and activities so they can do them at home with their children.

"I’m here on my knees," Leavitt joked, kneeling on the floor helping students play the dice game, "begging parents to please practice math with their children."

Nadiene Larson, whose daughter, Dacquiri, is in the second grade, said she intends to do just that. "If it’s going to help her get better in math, then I’m all for it," she said.

Another mother, Carla Luna, said she applauds the constant effort of the teachers at McPolin, but that she would like to see more drills in the classroom. Her third-grade son, Zackary, attends the Kumon Math & Reading Center in Salt Lake City for tutoring.

"Tonight is great for the kids," she said. "They get to learn new math skills through games, and they get to be social with different grade levels."

For Luna, what stood out most about the night was seeing all the "English as a Second Language" (ESL) children interacting and communicating through math.

Data released this past September by the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that achievement gaps in math between white and minority students persist in Utah, as well as nationally.

While 83 percent of Utah students were found to be at or above basic levels of math achievement in 2007, that number dipped to 58 percent for Hispanics, 2 percentage points lower than in 2005.

Because math is considered a universal language, Leavitt said the ESL students’ scores on state core tests are counted within the first two to three months, which she believes is too soon.

"Imagine you’re in a new country, and you may be good in math in your own country, but now you need to develop a whole new set of vocabulary," she said.

"I try and make them see how important math is," Leavitt said. "One of the biggest satisfactions for me is to see a change in attitude in a child. Maybe at first they say they don’t like math or they’re not good at it, but then pretty soon they are begging me for homework."

"I think math is important so that you know how to build stuff when you’re older and are able to learn science," student, Alana Hamill, said. Kindergartner, Berkeley Lukas, said "learning math is important for when you’re older and have to go to the bank to count your money."

Children as early as first-grade are being introduced to concepts like equations, Leavitt said, when just a few years ago that term was not introduced until about 6th grade.

"We are teaching more aggressively to the students," she said, "but they’re getting it."

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