SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO
"The children are doing the discovery, and that's more difficult for them and sometimes more difficult for us," says Wanda Collazo, who has been teaching eighth- and ninth-grade math for six years using the Puerto Rican Statewide Systemic Initiative, the island's math-reform method. "But I would never go back to the other way."
Ms. Collazo and her colleagues at the Venus Gardens Intermediate School in San Juan, Puerto Rico, say they've been learning a lot, along with their students, since adopting a new approach that focuses more intensively on helping kids understand math with hands-on projects.
One standard textbook is no longer the center of math lessons at the school. Instead, various texts are kept in the classroom for reference, and students work with handbooks and materials created for the reform program.
Activities may include exercises like balancing personal checkbooks with imaginary balances, or playing with handmade "algebra dominos." (A bright yellow "5" on one square needs to be linked to "If X = 10, X/2" penciled on the end of another.)
The kids tackle math classes with fresh enthusiasm since adopting the new material, teachers say, and also display more cooperation and better ability to work in teams. In addition, some teachers say students classified as problem learners respond very well to the hands-on methods, and seem better able to grasp fundamental concepts.
Teamwork has been a big plus for the faculty, too. The school's math teachers are given the same free hour during the day to work together to plan curriculum. Although they teach different grades, teachers see themselves as a team and try to keep their methods aligned.
"The students help each other," says Priscilla Torres, a seventh-grade teacher at the school. "And we help each other. It's much better."
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