Return of the Elementary Math Coordinator at LAS

Carmen Tawney recently filled the Elementary Math Coordinator position at Lowell Area Schools (LAS). Aside from her years attending Central Michigan University, she has lived in Lowell her entire life. And she has been involved with LAS in some capacity for most of her years post-college. She looks to help elementary students in the district find love, or even like, for math in fun and creative ways while also providing support for math interventionalists and classroom teachers.

Bringing Back the Elementary Math Coordinator Role

Ron Acheson is the former Elementary Math Coordinator. He left the role in 2020 when he became the Assistant Principal at Lowell Middle School. When Acheson vacated the position it was not filled. Earlier this year LAS looked to fill the role again, with Tawney stepping into the role in late February.

“Federal COVID relief funds are being used to fund the position.  This is an important position in order to oversee elementary math intervention for identified students,” says Dan Vander Meulen, Director of Curriculum for LAS. “The district has a long-term goal to increase math proficiency.  The coordinator is an important piece of this puzzle.”  

The Math Coordinator at the elementary level will help support students and teachers, overseeing the intervention team in elementary buildings. While the responsibilities that come with the role continue to be defined as needs are identified, some functions of the position include leading professional development, helping organize and report data, assisting classroom teachers needing help with particular math concepts, and helping students that may be struggling but are not part of an intervention program.

LAS Superintendent Nate Fowler adds, “Math is a subject where knowledge and skills build on each other as students progress through the curriculum.” 

From Classroom to Math Intervention

Tawney is a 1985 Lowell High School graduate who began teaching in the district in 1990. She spent nine years teaching 7th grade English before taking on fourth grade for 17 years and one year in 3rd grade. In 2017 Tawney took an early retirement due to family matters but returned as a math interventionist paraeducator at Murray Lake Elementary (MLE) in the fall of 2017. The lighter schedule allowed her to remain in an education setting while being able to tend to her family.

During the 2020-2021 school year Tawney was asked to substitute teach for a year in a MLE 5th grade classroom so Mr. Jacobus, the regular teacher could teach virtually. “Since I retired so abruptly from the classroom in 2017, I relished the opportunity to formally close out my classroom experience,” she reflects. “That class knew I was saying a final goodbye to teaching at the end of that year.”

Last summer Tawney saw a need for a math curriculum summer school and created a game-based program similar to the design of the math intervention strategies she used in the past. At the start of the current school year, she returned to a math interventionist role at MLE. However, at the end of April Tawney moved into an Elementary Math Coordinator role. 

With a major in Language Arts and a minor in Math, Tawney enjoys being part of both areas of education. She likes strategies and solving puzzles that touch on both subjects. Growing up the youngest in a large family, she had to keep up with her older siblings by playing games that involved numbers such as Cribbage, Pinochle, Euchre, and Yahtzee. “I believe that spearheaded my love particularly for math, as I loved to keep score,” she comments.

Math Focus at the Elementary Level

Math interventionalists at the Middle School are coordinated under a district administrator. At the high school level intervention is handled through the math department. In elementary grades, each school has an interventionist and now Tawney serves as the coordinator for Krisitin Parsons (Cherry Creek), Gaye Urban (Bushnell), Ashley Antonides (MLE), and Judy Proefke (Alto).

LAS math curriculum follows Common Core Standards. This program focuses on eight standards as outlined by Tawney below.

  • Problem Solving (Perseverance)
  • Reasoning (understanding vs. knowing)
  • Ability to argue and critique (knowing there are several ways to get an answer)
  • Modeling
  • Use appropriate tools
  • Attend to precision (using proper vocabulary)
  • Look for structure (best strategy to solve problems)
  • Look at regularity (patterns that mathematical problems follow)

One of the methods used to teach math is providing students with real-world concepts. “When young children can touch, feel, and move to interact with math they become engaged and begin to understand it and tend to enjoy it.  Common Core is not a new math concept, it is a better concept,” comments Tawney.

The stigma that math is hard is something that Tawney is trying to break. Game-based learning and keeping kids moving are methods she is using to keep kids engaged. Another way students are able to share their understanding is through “math talks”. A conversation is facilitated by a teacher surrounding a math concept and students are able to share their understanding.

For parents who want to help their elementary-aged children with math, Tawney suggests making sure they are aware of numbers around them and how they’re used in daily life. Examples include noticing patterns, address numbers, zip codes, highway markers, grocery store ads with numbers on them, and more. Simple games like Go Fish, Card War Uno, as well as dice games like Yahtzee help instill number patterns. Counting and sorting and even silly songs like “10 Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed” help kids learn math skills. Tawney encourages parents saying, “Just engage in numbers.  It is never too early or late to start any of these conversations.”

Developing the Role

While both literacy and math skills are important foundations to develop, the pandemic has brought math into the spotlight. Tawney says, “Nationwide, literacy was not as severely impacted as math. Many parents resorted to reading as a form of educating during the pandemic.  Parents were less likely to engage in math instruction at home.”

Important concepts of numeracy include learning to count, knowing numeric symbols, recognizing quantities, understanding number patterns, comparing numbers, and manipulating quantities.  If there is a lack of understanding in these areas, students will struggle with math concepts, especially as they progress through grade levels and material builds upon past knowledge. “If we can support students at the earliest stages and build a strong numeracy understanding, research shows, students do not need intensive support later,” suggests Tawney.

“Carmen Tawney has been a respected elementary math teacher for many years,” comments Vander Meulen, eager to see how the position will help students and teachers in the district. “Carmen has a strong track record of excellent math instruction and we are excited to have her share her knowledge across the district,”.

Mathematics and Statistics Awareness Month

Tawney’s role will evolve, especially in the fall when she plans on being a resource for teachers. She is also part of the curriculum review team and hopes to offer opportunities for parents to support learning math at home. One step in this direction is through promoting  Mathematics and Statistics Awareness Month in April. Additionally, each Friday through the end of the school year, elementary school newsletters to parents will include access to math information. The first was sent out just before spring break. Information also included a calendar of math-related activities that can be done throughout the month. The second letter was included in last week’s newsletter.

Tawney is adding another challenge for students in April by asking them to collect bread tags. These are the square or rectangular-shaped tabs found on bread and fruit bags (not twist ties). Each Friday classrooms will count their tags and at the end of the month a total for the district will be calculated. Each elementary school has a goal of collecting 1,000 tags. They will be sent to Danielle Cares for Chairs, a non-profit organization that recycles the tags and uses the money to purchase wheelchairs for kids. It takes 260,000 tags to purchase one wheelchair. Tawney adds that with April 22nd being Earth Day and teachers talking with students about recycling that this service project would be a good complement. 

If members of the community are interested in collecting tags they can be dropped off in the office at any of the elementary schools. Additionally, Jultara Salon Lowell Family Chiropractic, Jultara Salon, Lowell United Methodist Church, Lowell Englehardt (KDL) Library, Alto Library (KDL), Red Barn Market are collection sites.

Tawney is proud of the group she is leading saying, “My team of interventionists are a strong group of paraeducators, they are trained, work hard with the early elementary students and are moving them forward.” She concludes with, “When I reflect on our school motto – my life’s path has surely followed that statement  – Learners Today. Leaders Tomorrow. Red Arrows for Life. I am honored to be a part of this community, and my hope for all that graduate from Lowell have the same pride in their roots as I have.”

Photos courtesy of Carmen Tawney and used with permission.

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