November 28, 2020

Maths volunteer builds solid foundation

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Volunteer, Susan Cummer

After volunteering in It Takes a Village, the new afterschool programme aimed at helping George Town Primary School (GTPS) kids learn through play and positive interaction with adults, Susan Cummer decided she really wanted to do a bit more. But volunteering takes time and commitment, so she had to find out the best way to juggle her volunteering with family commitments:

“I have two kids of my own so Miss Martin (GTPS Head) put me with the librarian on Friday morning, and I was helping read to the kids there,” she said.

Helping kids read, and reading to them was fine, but an unexpected avenue for helping kids soon opened up:

“Then kids started asking me questions about math. One Friday one of the teachers said, ‘you know, you’re needed more tutoring in math than at the library reading,’” Ms Cummer said.

Since then she has begun tutoring students, in small groups of four and five, for 25 minutes per session three times a week.

While there are many reading programmes in the Cayman Islands, there are much fewer math programmes for primary age students, so Ms Cummer feels it’s is a great opportunity for her to make a more significant impact.

It was while attending the UCCI’s Post Graduate Diploma in Education last year that a professor there gave Ms Cummer an invaluable piece of advice: ”Don’t teach the children anything they can find out for themselves.”

Taking this to heart, a learning-through-doing approach has become the backbone of Ms Cummer’s approach to her math intervention programme.

Susan Cummer helps GTPS students build a solid maths foundation

On the day I visited her, five children were each given ten sticks, asked to separate them into groups in order to find out all the combinations of two numbers that add up to ten. They also had to write the number 10 by the side of the sticks. It is part of a process that involves linking the concrete world of numbers of visible objects with something abstract- the symbols that represent those numbers. It is this conceptual jump between the representational and the abstract that so many children find difficult.

“It’s a process,” Ms Cummer says. “Math builds upon basic key concepts. If they miss out on these key concepts it will negatively impact their ability to perform. For example counting backwards if a student cannot count backwards then they will struggle with subtraction.”

Ms Cummer hopes that by establishing the foundation stones properly, the students she teaches will be much better equipped to learn the more advanced stages of maths.

(Photos by: Christopher Tobutt)

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