Cobe Smith points to the coin he thinks is a quarter so he can add up the sum and get the right amount of money posed in this math exercise.
Photo by Andy Towle.
The boot camp in Stacey Summers’ classroom began in the late afternoon, but these seven elementary school students weren’t squatting to build leg muscles or performing push-ups.
Instead, they counted change.
“How many quarters make a dollar?” asked Summers, looking slightly weary from the long school day. Still, she maintained her patience.
Students gazed at a large postcard with printed pennies, quarters and dimes, then added the change and wrote down on a dry erase board how much money was there.
The students weren’t remedial, nor were they toiling after school, developing their genius, perhaps hoping for early admission to Harvard. These students were average.
The so-called boot camp at Julia Randall Elementary School provided average students the chance to refine their skills for one hour after school for two weeks — reading one week and math the second.
Summers worked with just one group of third-graders, but 65 students in second- through fifth-grades participated in small group instruction during the academic boot camp.
“We try to hit them all,” said Principal Rob Varner. “Truly no child left behind.”
Within each grade, students were separated into low average — those approaching “meets” on the state standardized test — and high average — those on the cusp of excelling.
“This is a great way to build their confidence,” said Summers. “Confidence means a lot when you take tests.”
Indeed, a student at one point asked of the money postcards, “Can we do the hardest one?” Summers flipped to a postcard in the back of the book, which challenged students to count dollars, as well as change.
Other lessons that day featured place value drills and their use in rounding. Place value had recently wrought confusion on some students, and so boot camp offered a perfect opportunity to rehash the concept in a no-stress environment, among a small group of peers.
Same went for rounding.
“When rounding to the 100s, the 10 is the boss,” explained Summers.
The week earlier, as students worked on reading skills, they read passages and examined them for main ideas, cause and effect.
The small group instruction allowed teachers to tailor lessons to that particular group’s needs.
And perhaps, with a little extra work, average will turn into above average.