Cincinnati, OH (PressExposure) April 12, 2011 -- Entering Judy Diekmeyer's 6th grade Math Challenge class at Rockwern Academy may be a cause for confusion. There are no calculators, no textbooks, and no problem-filled worksheets to be found. Some students have a few scraps of paper on their desks, to be used sparingly or not at all. Seventeen 11-year-olds squirm at their desks, looking excitedly at a large, blank screen. The room pulses with expectation as the students prepare themselves to begin a drill.
The session starts. Diekmeyer flashes the first problem up on the screen, and after several seconds hands begin to shoot up. A student is called on and answers correctly. The problems continue to flash rapidly, and as they warm up the class answers with increasing speed. Students are respectful of each other, and seem undaunted as the problems become more complex, ranging from long columns of addition to multiplying sets of 3-digit numbers. Unlike most math classes, the expertise is not clustered around a few students. Every member of the class is fully engaged in the exercise; both comprehension and skill seem to circulate and oscillate throughout the room.
For the past seven months, the 6th grade of Rockwern Academy has taken part in an innovative new math program called "Math Challenge." The emphasis and goal of the class is to expose students to a math experience that will strengthen their mental math calculation ability and increase their confidence. The program was created by Rockwern teacher Judy Diekmeyer with material from three sources: Jason Gibson, who wrote Mental Math Secrets, Scott Flansburg author of Math Magic and sponsor of the American Math Challenge, and a 300-year-old Ancient India program called Vedics.
Rockwern sixth-graders say that the program has fundamentally shifted their understanding of numbers. "We understand numbers in a different way. Before it was boring, but it's more fun now," said one 11-year old girl. "It took lots of practice, but now this way is faster than the old way. I really enjoy it." One boy said that mental math dramatically reduces the amount of time it takes to complete tests and homework: "I didn't like homework before but now it goes a lot faster. I can finish my tests more quickly too." A student told how she teaches her fourth-grader brother to do mental math. Others smiled with pride as they described using their newfound talents to calculate tips for their parents at restaurants. After watching a presentation in which the 6th graders demonstrated their skills, many adults approached Diekmeyer with a request for a speed math class of their own. Even highschool teachers have asked for her help implementing the program in their own schools.
What is the magic, you ask? According to these sixth-graders, there isn't any. They explain that instead of thinking about numbers based on a one through ten system, they have learned to focus on the numbers between zero and nine. Instead of working problems from right to left, they work left to right. Although their lighting speed might suggest a secret trick, they insist that there are no complicated theories, complex methods, or longwinded explanations. Instead, the Rockwern students offer simple statements to explain their techniques. Through many examples and a great deal of practice, they have learned to become careful observers of patterns.
"In just six months and with only one session of practice per week, the students have become faster than me," says Diekmeyer. "They are young and their minds are fresh and receptive to new ideas." "The program," she adds, "has been a great equalizer for the class. While before there was a larger range in ability among the students, Math Challenge has been a tremendous help for those who previously struggled. Students who had difficulty keeping up or were reluctant to engage in math class are now enthusiastic voices in our classroom."
To learn more about Rockwern Academy, visit http://www.rockwernacademy.org/.