Fifty-five can’t be divided by five — at least, that’s what a couple of fourth-graders had decided during their one-on-one math lesson with two student teachers from Oregon State University-Cascades.

The graduate students, Rita Webb and Hannah Deede, glanced at each other, then at their instructor, who nudged them to ask the girls a question.

“Can you count by fives for me?” Deede said.

One of the fourth-graders, Greyson Logan, 9, began to count.

“Five, 10, 15 … ohhhh. It can be divided by five.”

Deede and Webb smiled and told her she was right before continuing with the lesson in factors. But that moment — in which students came to an incorrect conclusion and teachers in training sought to get them back on track — was a big one, according to Melinda Knapp, a math instructor in the teacher education program at OSU-Cascades. Rather than correcting the students, the teachers nudged them to figure out their mistake and fix it. This was a learning experience for the student teachers as well as the kids.

The math methods course, with 27 graduate students, meets in a special classroom space at Silver Rail Elementary in southeast Bend for the majority of the term. Each Friday, the student teachers walk down the hall to Ona Larsell’s fourth-grade classroom and meet their “math buddies.”

The hourlong sessions give student teachers a chance to apply the theory they’re learning from Knapp while providing fourth-graders some one-on-one instruction.

The graduate students are enrolled in a master of arts in teaching program, through which they will earn a master’s degree and a teaching credential in one year at OSU-Cascades. Student teachers also can choose to go at a slower pace and earn the degree and credential over two years instead.

Knapp believes it’s important for teachers in training to take what they’re learning and apply it in a classroom setting that includes kids. This is possible because of a partnership between Partners in Education Schools in Central Oregon, including Silver Rail Elementary, and OSU-Cascades’ master of arts in teaching program.

“I’m teaching things I wish I would have learned,” Knapp said.

Knapp, who formerly taught middle school math in Bend-La Pine Schools, believes the kind of hands-on experience Webb and Deede are gaining at Silver Rail will prepare future teachers to run their own classrooms when the time comes.

“You don’t know what you don’t know sometimes,” Knapp said.

In addition to having “math buddies” in her math methods course, Knapp’s pupils work as student teachers in local schools.

Beyond experiencing teaching challenges that might not be covered in a textbook, the graduate students are learning best practices for teaching math. These include letting kids talk about what they’re learning, Knapp said. The student teachers can learn a lot from “listening to their rambling thinking,” Knapp said.

“You’ll see kids today doing a lot of drawing and writing.”

The Friday lessons vary among groups. One set of partners might be working on division or multiplication, while another set might be working on factorials. All of the lessons are in line with fourth-grade math standards.

On this particular Friday, Knapp assigned her student teachers a math lesson in the context of a story of their choice. The student teachers could work one-on-one with their math buddies or in groups for what was their last session.

Deede and Webb read their math buddies, Greyson and Brynn Wilson, 9, a book called “The King’s Commissioners” by Aileen Friedman. In the book, a young princess explains that the king’s commissioners — 47 in total — can be counted in different ways. Using colorful craft sticks with pompoms glued at one end, the girls counted to 47 by twos (then adding one), by fives (then adding two) and by 10s (then adding seven).

Larsell said her fourth-graders understand well that the people coming to work with them each Friday are teachers in training. It’s exciting for them to have a special buddy, but she said the one-on-one time has also been beneficial for them.

Knapp and Larsell met when Knapp was working as a math coach for the school district and Larsell was teaching at La Pine Elementary School. Larsell didn’t like math growing up, but in adulthood, already working as a teacher, she said she learned a lot from Knapp as a math coach. Larsell likes teaching it now.

Knapp said the recent instructional moment shared by Webb, Deede and their fourth-grade buddies was important because the student teachers didn’t point out the girls were wrong too quickly.

“We’ve almost all had a bad math experience we can remember,” Knapp said.

She believes that preventing those embarrassing moments, and creating educational ones in their place, will yield better outcomes for students.

— Reporter: 541-383-0325, kfisicaro@bendbulletin.com

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