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19 March 2014

Professor takes different approach to elementary math

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School of Education professor Jennifer Langer-Osuna lead a session of her after-school math club at West Lab Elementary School on Tuesday March 11.  UM reconnected with the nearby elementary school when Langer-Osuna took on the title of Professor in Residence and began her math club research project. Monica Herndon // Photo Editor

School of Education professor Jennifer Langer-Osuna lead a session of her after-school math club at West Lab Elementary School on Tuesday March 11. UM reconnected with the nearby elementary school when Langer-Osuna took on the title of Professor in Residence and began her math club research project. Monica Herndon // Photo Editor

A new after-school program that aims to make math education more effective and enjoyable has reconnected UM with a local elementary school.

Jennifer Langer-Osuna, a School of Education professor, is working on a research project at West Lab Elementary School that looks into how kids work together to solve math problems. The School of Education wanted to rekindle the relationship with West Lab after a few years of inactivity.

After months of development, the first weekly session for the math club was held Feb. 18.

Langer-Osuna provides the students with complex math problems that come from the Learning Math through Representations (LMR) curriculum.  This curriculum takes the emphasis off the traditional means of learning math, and involves more physical activity.

“It makes math more interesting. It makes math more social,” she said.

Langer-Osuna, a professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning, adjusted the curriculum to focus on interaction between the students. The group work is structured for each student to have a specific role in the problem solving so no student misses out or is neglected by the group or the teacher, regardless of skill level.

“So all kids see themselves as having something to say mathematically, and they see each other as having something to say,”  she said.

Langer-Osuna started as professor in residence at West Lab this fall. The school is located on the edge of campus behind Mahoney-Pearson Residential College. It serves 278 students in kindergarten through sixth grade.

When teachers work at West Lab, they have specific projects. When they leave the school, they take their projects with them, and neither the project nor the relationship continues. Langer-Osuna is now rekindling that relationship as the school’s professor in residence.

According to Beth Harry, the chair of the Teaching and Learning Department in the School of Education, the student teacher program resumed placements at West Lab this year as well.

Education doctoral student Edwing Medina is working with Langer-Osuna on the project. He is excited to work with the West Lab students.

“So often in academia we’re stuck in the theory and then the schools, day to day, are stuck in the practice, so the lab schools allow you to kind of merge the two,” Medina said.

According to Langer-Osuna, education schools across the country often have laboratory schools where innovative teaching models are tested and new teachers are trained.

The West Lab School is a special case because it’s a public school, and the students are held to the same standards as the rest of Miami-Dade County.

After about three years of development, Langer-Osuna would like to be able to offer suggestions to regular teachers about her more effective math education model. Medina looks forward to applying the program to more diverse populations.

“There’s a great need for young children to learn math in settings other than the classroom and to participate in math-focused activities that are fun as well as educational,” Harry said.