Oakhurst Elementary School fifth grade math teacher Robin Ward will tell you that the implementation of new Common Core math standards brought a drastic change to the way she now approaches the subject matter.
“Not only did my approach to teaching math change, but the other big change was how students now solve problems and explain their problem-solving strategies in writing,” Ward said.
Ward said that at first the new standards were frustrating to her and parents, until she found a way to be ‘excited’ about the changes.
“Being a teacher is a lot of work, but it is rewarding and fun when students are willing to work hard and put forth the effort to do more, and we did that together after I decided that my class is going to do big projects,” Ward said.
Ward said what started the transformation was the purchase of a few kits called Lego-dacta, engineering kits that need to be assembled correctly in order to build simple machines.
“The kits were a fantastic addition to my instructional program as the students absolutely loved them,” Ward said.
It was when Ward received an educational mini-grant from the Oakhurst-Sierra Kiwanis Club a couple years ago to purchase a little more advanced kits, that the math-engineering program began to grow.
This school year, another mini-grant allowed Ward to acquire a larger kit to build amusement park rides - a project that really got the fifth graders enthused.
“The students work in groups to build the bridges, a roller coaster, a ferris wheel and a carousel,” Ward explained. “It is amazing to watch, listen to and help my students with their progress. They learn how to make bridges structurally sound, they learn that they need to make sure they follow directions and they learn from each other in making the structures work.”
Ward added that what is really important in all of this is that the students also learn the importance of learning from failures.
“We discuss failure a lot and how learning from failures is what truly helps us succeed,” Ward said.
Ward knows how proud her students are when they successful complete one of the projects.
“The students get sad when they have to take apart a structure to build another one,” Ward said.
“I really enjoy the way Coach Ward teaches - she makes it so easy to understand,” said student Macie Kearney. “The bridges and roller coasters that we work on are so fun, it’s like learning and having fun at the same time.”
“At the start of school I thought math was very hard, but working with the Lego kits I am learning math and having fun doing it - my life is way easier now,” Kenshiro Nagata said.
Fifth grader Taylor Bullock feels the roller coaster project brought everyone together to work as a team.
“It always seems complicated when we start building one of the kits, but when Coach Ward encourages us to have the ‘just do it’ attitude, it seems to get easier.”
“Hopefully in the next couple years, we can achieve our dream of having a complete amusement park completed and on display at one of the Kiwanis car shows so everyone can see the great work the students are doing,” Ward said. “I am so proud of my math class and their successes with these engineering projects. Watch out world, OES engineers are coming.”