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Mentoring Mathematicians

March 22, 2021

Every week, Dr. Kevin Smith and two of his students, Abbey Strait and Samantha Pies, meet with a group of Harrisburg fifth graders through Zoom to talk math.

In all of their elementary schools, the Harrisburg School District creates and implements a variety of frameworks to differentiate instruction and meet students where they are, according to Angela Nelson, instructional coach and interventionist with the Harrisburg District.

“This way every student can succeed academically by working at his or her own pace, while receiving continual support,” Nelson said.

Therefore, some students master their math standards earlier than others. This led Travis Lape, the Harrisburg School District’s Innovative Programs Director, to reach out to Smith and invite him and a team of DSU elementary education majors to offer math enrichment. This is their second year of collaboration.

During the week the Harrisburg students, who have mastered their standards, use an online program to practice mathematics. Then once a week they Zoom with Smith, Strait, and Pies, and begin by discussing the math they’ve been practicing.

“Each week we have the students watch a video on the Math Practice Standards,” Smith said. “These Math Practice Standards help remind us about the behaviors we should have as mathematicians.”

Additionally, the students complete math puzzles to practice their logic and reasoning skills, and one to three challenge problems each week.

At the Zoom meetings, Smith and his two students lead discussions about Math Practice Standards and how the students solved their challenge problems. These exercises help the fifth graders learn that mathematics involves using logic and reasoning skills to become a creative problem solver, Smith said. “Mathematics involves looking for patterns and structure.”

By assisting Smith, Strait and Pies are able to gain classroom experience in the subject of math and offering enrichment opportunities to students. They also learn about math resources that they can use in future classrooms.

“I love seeing how excited the students are to practice math and how confident they are with having discussions,” said Strait. “It’s also a great way for me to gain more experience in teaching math and become more familiar with the way students today are learning.”

Strait, a third year elementary and special education major from Castlewood, S.D., is grateful for this opportunity. “I am so thankful that Dr. Smith is willing to help these students learn, but also help me learn how to become a great math mentor and teacher.”

Pies, an elementary and special education major from Tea, S.D., will take her experiences being a math mentor into the classroom when she begins student teaching in the fall.

“I was interested in becoming a math mentor to continue to learn how to best teach math, in addition to how I can enrich my future math students when they need to be more challenged,” Pies said.

She hopes the students will continue to challenge themselves and utilize the math practices to be the best they can be.

“Every person can be successful in math, no matter their background, as long as they have the tools to have the correct mathematical mindset which can be found when using the math practices,” Pies said.

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