By Ashley Diggs, FSU News Intern
A fourth-grade student raises her hand anxiously to answer the math problem on the board, but her anxiety changes to excitement when she learns that her answer is correct. According to her teacher, she and her fellow classmates have gained confidence in their math class ever since they began getting help.
For seven semesters, Frostburg State University students have been helping children at Beall Elementary have these moments.
Dr. Karen Parks, FSU Department of Mathematics, first planned the tutoring program during her sabbatical in the spring of 2003. She met with Jeannie DeWitt, a second-grade teacher, and Janet Wilson, former principal, both from Beall Elementary School, which is adjacent to the FSU campus.
They decided to invite those children at Beall who needed to improve their math skills. The program began in fall of 2003. Dr. Parks recruited 15 tutors for the tutoring sessions. On the first day of tutoring, Mrs. DeWitt and Dr. Parks were astounded when 35 children appeared.
“Mrs. DeWitt organized the children, while I gave a pep talk to my students. I told them they could tutor two or three children just as easily as one, and they did,” Dr. Parks said.
“I asked that first group of tutors at the end of the semester to make suggestions for the next semester,” Parks added. “They all agreed that having three children to tutor made a nice group. They liked having three children to play math games, and if one child was absent, they could still teach the lesson they had planned.”
The sessions are one hour long and are held in Mrs. DeWitt’s classroom. The tutors keep a journal about their experiences, and they also plan each session with their children. This semester, there are seven tutors and 21 children.
Having the FSU students tutor the Beall students helps because it “encourages the students to enjoy math, it gives them a different perspective and it encourages the tutors to be positive with the students and builds their self-concept,” said Mrs. DeWitt. “The tutoring is more informal and relaxing, which helps, and it gives the students an opportunity to build up their confidence because they all get to answer equally.”
Sierra McDonald, a tutor, said, “I feel that the students have gained some confidence as well as learned to work together a little better and get along with each other. I think that they have also gotten better at some of the areas where they had previously been a little weak.”
At a recent tutoring session, the tutors were very attentive to those students in their groups who were having more difficulty. They took the time to explain what they were doing and gave the students problems as a demonstration. The students each took turns answering question and the tutors made sure everyone understood before moving on the next problem. All of the students seemed very receptive of the help and got very excited when they got the problems right. But none of the students hesitated to ask for help when they didn’t understand.
This experience can be a worthwhile experience for both the FSU students and as well as the Beall students. “One of the little girls I tutor came in and said, ‘I really like math tutoring so far this year, its fun.’ It's moments like that that make it all worthwhile,” said tutor Jessica Koch.
The tutoring sessions “not only benefit the students at Beall but also helps the FSU students to see that what they are learning in their classes are beneficial to the students they will later teach in the classroom, and they get the opportunity to see what techniques work and which don’t,” said Mrs. DeWitt.
Kristen Eckard said, “I decided to tutor because I am an education major with a concentration in math, and I figured it would be a good experience for me to 'test the waters' in the teaching field. This is my first semester tutoring and it has been a great experience for me because I'm usually not very patient, but this has taught me that I need a lot of patience to be a teacher.”
Brittney Chisley, another tutor, said, “I have learned from the children that sometimes children will always be children. As a tutor, you sometimes have to create new and fun ways to present math to the children. And yes, sometimes children so forget their times tables, but it is not the end of the world.”
Many of the students joined the program for different reasons. Tutor Lindsey Bennett said, “I am a graduate student who needed to come up with a tutoring program for one of my courses. Dr. Parks called me and let me know about her program, so I got involved with them in order to complete my requirement. So far, I have enjoyed working with the students, and I feel as though I am able to build their confidence and build positive feelings about math. Since I am able to reinforce and re-teach necessary skills using games, the students enjoy math tutoring and are able to learn while having fun.”
For more information about this tutoring program, contact Dr. Parks at (301) 687-4296. For more information about FSU, visit the Web site at www.frostburg.edu.