"Math instruction gets about equal time with physical education in most schools."
It's nice if programs attract students. It's even better if they help students learn. "Recess Math," a program launched in 1990 in Gresham, Oregon's Davis Elementary School appears to do both.
Thanks to a three-year, $250,000 grant from the RJR Nabisco Foundation, Davis provides math instruction before and after school, during the noon hour and recess, and during the summer months. Test results between the fall of 1990 and the fall of 1991 indicated that Davis's third, fourth, and fifth graders' math skills increased at a rate about 50 percent higher than other students in the system.
Although mathematics is listed in the National Education Goals, says Donnise Brown, the principal who established the program before moving on to Margaret Scott Elementary in Portland, many schools shortchange students in both math instruction and staff. "Math instruction runs about 45 minutes in most schools, getting far less attention than reading and about equal time with ... physical education," says Brown.
"Normally students lose ground over the summer," commented Curtis Anderson, the current Davis principal. "The Recess Math program gets them so ready for school they'll actually come into the first few weeks ahead of where they were."
Students like the program because, unlike the traditional grind of math instruction, they get the chance to play with math. Worksheets cannot be found in Recess Math -- instead students work with games and other activities that allow them to use mathematical concepts to solve problems. Working individually or in pairs, students log on to a computer and work their way through a series of programs designed to improve math skills and reinforce what they have already learned in the regular classroom.
Brown says she developed the program because the school was facing a big problem in the fall of 1989. Her students' math scores ranked well below district and state averages on standardized tests, other approaches had failed to help, and extracurricular activities were eating into classroom time.
Recess Math is added to the students' mandatory instruction and students sign up for it on a voluntary basis. Who would believe that children could be persuaded to use their free time to study mathematics? But in fact they will, if the program is interesting and challenging enough. In fact, Davis students clamor to get into it. Originally designed for 60 students, 90 applied for the inaugural session -- a number that climbed as word of the program spread over the school grapevine.
The result, two years after the program started, was that test scores started rising dramatically and more than 80 percent of Davis students were enrolled. Although the program had to scramble for local support when the RJR Nabisco money ran out, according to teacher Christine Downing, at its height Recess Math averaged 100 students per day during the summer -- out of a total school enrollment of 450.
Although the program is voluntary, teachers insist on genuine commitment to it. Entering students are required to sign a contract pledge that they will attend 20 classes during a four-week period -- a class a day and a minimum of ten extra hours of math instruction each month. "I've been in this business for 32 years," says Brown, "and this is the first time I've seen such clear and convincing evidence that the innovation we implemented had its intended effect."
For additional information:
Kristine L. Fosbach
Reynolds School District
Troutdale, OR 97060