Program proves winning formula for algebra students
Story and photos by Tanya Huang
November 29, 2010 (Lakeside) — Lakeside Middle School students' math scores have risen dramatically ever since its teachers incorporated new learning methodologies last summer from GEMDAS® Educational Services, LLC, a company founded by Lora Kermode, a former teacher with vast experience helping at-risk youth in inner-city schools overcome their math phobias.
The school’s California Standardized 2009-10 test scores showed that seventh grade algebra scores skyrocketed from 66 to 95 percent proficient, or advanced; eighth grade algebra scores also increased sharply from 37 to 56 percent proficient.
“We’ve had enormous growth in our scores and I contribute a lot of it to the GEMDAS® program,” Principal Steve Mull said. “So I expect a tremendous amount of growth within the next couple of years.”
GEMDAS Algebra Success® is comprised of three components: changing students’ perception of learning algebra by eliminating their fear of math, applying easy and effective teaching strategies, and reviewing the concepts daily while addressing students’ most common mistakes.
The program is designed for schools nationwide and includes all the foundational concepts necessary for math proficiency such as integers, fractions, linear equations and polynomials. In order to achieve algebra success, Kermode trains teachers to utilize easy-to-remember chants, kinesthetic movements, mnemonic devices and colorful visual aids.
“One of the aspects of these strategies is to focus on eliminating math phobias and to help students become more confident and at ease with algebra and math in general,” Kermode said. “So one of the chants that we like to say at the beginning of the day is, ‘Algebra is easy, like y = mx + b. Achieving proficiency is our reality, reality.’”
“Once being a ‘fraction-phobic,’ like most students are, (Kermode’s) Fraction Motions® techniques made me a fraction expert,” said Fernando Hernandez, Kermode’s former student. “I applied every mnemonic device (Kermode) had taught me. I scored 100 percent on that exam and test after test, I, a student who had failed algebra with 35 percent, never scored below 90 percent.”
Mull says he enjoys going into the beginning of math classes because it really boosts students’ confidence to start the day with positive chants and encouraging comments. Lakeside Middle School’s students now look forward to attending math classes because the techniques make learning easy and enjoyable for them.
“We’re a very performing arts-oriented school … so this kind of really fits their needs,” Mull said. “We focus on the whole child. In a time when all you read about in the paper is budget cuts, budget cuts, budget cuts — cut the arts, cut the music, cut everything — we’re expanding everything. Those are the things that connect kids to school, connect kids to learning.”
Connecting teachers to school and reinvigorating their joy for teaching is another of Kermode’s main goals.
“Some teachers just get bogged down on working out problems on the board,” Kermode said. “A lot of times I think that teachers assume students have a lot of knowledge that students may not have or may need reminders of. Explaining each concept and the details of it is so critical for the struggling learners.”
Kermode takes pride in seeing teachers like Lakeside Middle School’s David Hartwig, who has been teaching for 29 years, really enjoy her training and get enthusiastic to incorporate her methods into their curriculum.
Parents, like teachers, are also a key factor to students’ success in algebra. Lakeside Middle School’s PTA sponsored a parent night during which Kermode explained her strategies to the parents and reminded them how to solve linear equations and combine integers. Once parents become confident in their math skills, they can support and assist their children in practicing algebra.
“I had one parent come up with tears in her eyes … I could see the hope in her eyes that she could get it,” Kermode said. “A lot of times the phobias start with the parents, if they had maybe a bad experience in school with math, then that can get translated to the students so I think it’s important to get the math phobias from all different angles.”
Kermode recommends for parents to provide a quiet place for their child to do homework and study, provide plenty of supplies, check their homework by helping them correct mistakes and keep track of their progress in assignments.
“I don’t want algebra to stop anyone from graduating high school or moving on to what they’re intended to do,” Kermode said.
Mull says GEMDAS® would benefit any school and he expects the students who continue to learn with these strategies to continue to raise the bar in test scores. He is currently working on expanding the program to the district’s high schools.
For more tips for parents and information about the GEMDAS® program, visit www.algebrasuccess.com.
Tanya Huang is a journalism major at San Diego State University and an intern for East County Magazine.