© 2017 Naperville Education Foundation
203 W. Hillside Road, Naperville, IL 60540-6589
Anyone who has difficulty calculating numbers, percentages or fractions, can empathize with students who groan at the thought of math
classes and the prospect of high school algebra. For some students, simple math equations may as well be quantum mechanics. Many other
students (like many adults) calculate slowly because they’ve not learned to manipulate numbers algebraically.
For one week each summer,
the Naperville Education Foundation (NEF) sponsors a Math Camp designed to speed students calculation abilities and prevent a lifetime
of finger counting. During the 90-minute classes, six and seventh grade students hone their calculation skills. Math Camp teachers
for Summer 2015 were: Kate Krenek and Julie Keleghan at Lincoln Junior High; Kim Persin and Dumler Chavous at Washington; Paula Smith
and Cheryl Nicoski at Madison; Rob Sacher and Karin Mikicich at Kennedy; and Deb Harris soloed at Jefferson.
The Math Camp project
is coordinated by Jennifer Donatelli, director of curriculum and instruction for Naperville School District 203. In 2015, the program
was observed and reviewed by Sarah Dumler, a sophomore at North Central College.
"All of the teachers at the Math Camps had the same
goal of making math more accessible to…students," Dumler said, adding that "The majority of the camps were targeted toward incoming
sixth grade students, making the students feel more comfortable and confident transitioning to a new school." Not all of the students
are struggling in math, though fifth grade teachers direct slower students into the program.
Math Camp is a refreshing departure from
the static, desk- and computer-based instruction typical of the regular school year; rather, the goal is to get participants to learn
through games. Classes are small and intimate, providing plenty of one-on-one instruction. "In the summertime, you want to get kids
comfortable and confident," Lincoln’s. Krenek explained, adding that this more intimate and fun setting is a boon to kids who are
verbal and like to talk though things. "Kids who struggle with math often are more kinesthetic…they like to move, rather than sit
at a desk," she said.
Algebra? Fun? Why not!
Krenek said that given the right setting, students actually enjoy learning basic algebraic
equations in preparation for the more rigorous high school curriculum. "Often," she said, "kids don’t have the numbers foundation,
so they struggle when they get to us in sixth grade. Being able to take (numbers) apart is key, and using math games speeds their
She also works to get parents and students to play math games together, so that the game structure continues into
the school year’s strategic math program.
In an interview, Dumler expressed admiration for the Math Camp program’s mix of math games.
"They had games mixing fractions and algebraic concepts that allowed students to learn subconsciously, and to recognize patterns,
rather than relying on rote memorization. The students were engaged, focused, and having fun. I was really impressed by how the teachers
were able to connect with the students; all the teachers volunteered to take on this work, and they did a good job of making the students
We spoke with two of the students who attended this summer’s Math Camp at Lincoln Junior High, sixth graders Kyle Davenport
and Kylie Kich. Kylie said she was doing well in math in fifth grade, but signed up for Math Camp to improve her competence. "I had
the advantage of having a father who was a math whiz," Kylie said, noting that he did not do her homework for her in elementary school.
Kyle’s mother sent him to Math Camp "because she thought I needed it, but I didn’t think I needed it (very) much," he told us. "I
knew my fractions, but now I can do them a lot faster; Math Camp helped me a lot because it was in the form of games."
Both said they
would go through the program again, and Kylie wished that it was longer than one week.
The Naperville Education Foundation (NEF) donates
approximately $6,700 to the Math Camp program annually. Teachers are paid a reduced "curriculum rate," with the rest of the money
going toward classroom supplies, according to Donatelli.
Dumler feels the program would benefit by having them compare notes and swap
ideas. "And maybe in the spring, they could go to each elementary school and do like a math night, or a littler preview night to involve
the parents and student…maybe get more attendance."
At Jefferson, Deb Harris began with a work session to improve their understanding
of decimals, preparatory to doing math games the rest of the week. A quiz was given after each lesson. Students worked in pairs,
or one-on-one with Harris.
At Kennedy, incoming students were judged to be weakest at math facts and connecting decimals and fractions.
They played a game called "Block 4," where the goal is to get four numbers in succession, or in a square, on a Sudoku-like game sheet.
Another game involved rolling several dice and using the pip combinations to build the largest numbers using different place values
(the positions of digits within numbers; each place has a value of 10 times the place to its right).
At Madison Junior High, students
were encouraged to share math concepts with a parent or family member; students who brought a signed sheet to school the next day
would be entered into a raffle offering small prizes.
Students at Washington’s Math Camp began their sessions by playing math games
on classroom computers as they waited for other students to arrive. Then, Persin and Chavous asked them to recall what they learned
the previous day. This kept them aware of new concepts such as, "the easiest place to start when reading decimals." Dumler said that
students were given a worksheet to fill out reviewing place value and number value. The worksheet format was written on the whiteboard
so that students could fill in the answers together. At the end of the class, students enjoyed playing "decimal bingo."
Back at Lincoln,
Kate Krenek wants to draw more students into Math Camp. "I want the doors to be open…the seats to be full. Small class sizes are
helpful, but one year we did have 40 kids in one room, and it kept both of us busy," she said, adding that "30 students would be great."
This summer, Lincoln invited about 30 students to Math Camp…14 attended. Washington invited 20 and got seven; Kennedy invited 15
and got 10; of the 42 invited to Jefferson, 11 attended; and of the 25 invited to Madison’s program, 12 completed the course.
conclusion of her report, Dumler said she was impressed with all five Math Camps and the positive affect they had on students. "The
teachers were invested in the work they were doing, and the students were engaged in the classroom, making it a successful experience
for all involved."
Students Kylie Kich and Kyle Davenport build their pre-algebra skills by playing a card game called "Speed." Their teacher, Kate
Krenek, looks on.
The object of Speed is to get rid of your cards first. Cards are marked with numbers one through 52. Cards are played so that numbers
change by ones. If there’s a five, you can lay down a six or a four. It gets more complicated when done with multiple numbers;
students’ mental agility is increased and learning speeds up. Four students can play partners, so that if one makes a mistake, the
partner can point it out for a quick correction.
The ladder game involves using a ladder diagram and a deck of numbered cards to make simple equations. You have to come up with an
equation to equal whatever rung of the ladder you are on.