February 22, 2012 | 07:36 AMCentral-Denison first-grader Rolando Lagunez had the biggest smile on his face as he pumped his right fist in the air.
He didn't just hit a home run, make a basket or score a soccer goal. Rolando had just answered a math problem correctly in a game he was playing on an iPad with teacher Stacey Forster after school recently.
At a table across the room, Natalie Dominguez-Cruz and Nina Anderson worked more quietly. With their heads down and eyes focused, they used their index fingers to find all the right answers on the tablet.
All of the kids were involved in Love to Learn, a new Central-Denison after-school program that focuses on improving children's number sense, shapes and concepts of money.
Twenty-five first-graders are involved in the program, five in each class, which includes using the iPad, shopping, Legos, board games and creative skills. The kids attend for about an hour two days a week, Mondays and Wednesdays. They spend two days in each of the classes.
"I think the Love to Learn program's main benefit is to show young students that math has real world applications," first-grade teacher Meghan Lois said. "When they go to the store with their families and use money, that is math. When they play a fun board game with friends, that is math. It is also a great way to show students that math is fun."
The idea for Love to Learn was born this past summer when the school was exploring grant opportunities.
Central-Denison Principal Samantha Polek said the Lego Corporation offered a grant, which included the school receiving six iPads if the school meets certain criteria.
"We really devised this project focusing on math skills," Polek said. "We thought first grade was where we were noticing we could improve number sense. For example, we see third graders who can't count by twos or fives or 25s."
Polek said school staff had been discussing ways to improve that number sense as well as common core standards such as concepts of money.
Another plan, to help students have fun while learning.
There's no question Rolando was having fun. He and Forster were playing a game trying to guess the right number using clues given by the iPad application. Every time he had the chance, Rolando seemed to get it right and had a smile to show for it.
Fun in learning is just one of the results of the program, Polek said.
"We feel if they are successful at something, they are more inclined to do it more," Polek said. "If we know children have more fluency with math facts, that frees part of their cognitive thinking so they can go on and do more higher order math. If they are still counting on their fingers as they try to do long division, it's going to be a struggle. This really helps them to be fluent and more advanced in math."
Polek said the shopping class is very important. Students are allowed to shop in class with boxes of items that have prices on them. The kids then answer several questions that relate to the cost of the items.
"When we have a book fair here, it is amazing the kids have no idea how much an item is versus what they have," Polek said. "The money, the shopping, will help with lots of math concepts like larger than and less than, how much coin value, how to add and count up."
Lois said at the very least, the kids have a great time in the program.
"The kids love coming to the club," Lois said. "They look forward to playing with the iPads, building and creating in the Lego center and playing in the first-grade store. They look forward to working with other teachers as well as being with friends from other classrooms. Parents also seem to like that their children are working with math concepts in real life situations, too."
The school will know at the end of the five-week program whether Love to Learn has helped the students with their math.
The students, who were invited to participate, were tested prior to the start of Love to Learn. They will be tested again when the program is complete. If the results are what the school is looking for, there are plans to hold at least one more session this year, if not two, Polek said. That would mean another 25 to 50 kids could participate in the program, currently for first graders.
"I think there will be a few discussions about when we want to do it again," Polek said. "We want to make sure it is doing some good. But there's that soft data about how much enjoyment they are having. They are having a lot of fun. If one student didn't grow on the assessment, did they have fun playing the board game and iPad? Are they picking up other skills that may not show up in the assessment?"
Lois is sure positive results will be shown.
"I do think the testing we do will show growth for students, especially in the area of math vocabulary and the concepts such as more, fewer and the same," she said. "They have had more exposure to these types of activities now and these terms should be more concrete."
Because of that, she believes it will continue.
"I know that we are planning to offer Love to Learn for another session to reach more students and involve them in the fun," Lois said.