Math for Early Learners Academy Wraps Up its Second Year

  • MELA photo 5
    The students and faculty of the Baylor School of Education's Math for Early Learners Academy, now in its second year serving early childhood students in Waco ISD. (Meg Cullar/Baylor School of Education)
  • MELA photo 1
    Raven Richard, BSEd '17, is one of the master teachers who lead each class at the Math for Early Learners Academy at Baylor University. (Meg Cullar/Baylor School of Education)
  • MELA photo 2
    Emily Bray Draper, BSEd '12, is one of the master teachers who lead each class at the Math for Early Learners Academy at Baylor University. (Meg Cullar/Baylor School of Education)
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    Jennifer Williams is one of the master teachers who lead each class at the Math for Early Learners Academy at Baylor University. (Meg Cullar/Baylor School of Education)
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    Sandra Cooper, Ph.D., professor of mathematics education in the department of curriculum and instruction, is founder and director of the Math for Early Learners Academy at Baylor. (Meg Cullar/Baylor School of Education)
Aug. 1, 2017

Media Contact: Tonya B. Hudson, 254-710-4656
Follow Baylor Media Communications on Twitter: @BaylorUMedia

WACO, Texas (Aug. 1, 2017) – Research done in kindergarten classrooms has shown that a pilot program of the Baylor School of Education helped young students gain an advantage in math understanding, as compared to their peers.

The Math for Early Learners Academy (MELA), sponsored by the Baylor School of Education, wraps up its four-week program on Thursday, Aug. 3. The summer early-intervention program is in its second year serving early childhood students in Waco ISD.

Last summer the program enrolled one class of 17 students who were entering kindergarten. During the school year, the MELA research team evaluated the children’s progress in early fall and late spring of the school year.

“Midway through the fall semester, we conducted an assessment of all the kindergarten children at Brook Avenue Elementary, including our MELA students,” said Sandra Cooper, Ph.D., professor of mathematics education in the department of curriculum and instruction and founder and director of MELA. “From those results we saw that our MELA students were ahead of their peers, which we expected in the short term.”

Cooper said that researchers gave another assessment at the end of April.

“Once again, we saw that the MELA students were ahead of their peers, without any other intervention during the school year,” Cooper said. “We were very pleased that MELA gave them a boost that kept them moving forward in mathematics learning throughout the entire academic year.”

The research team, led by Cooper, includes curriculum and instruction faculty members Rachelle Rogers, Ed.D.; Lakia Scott, Ph.D.; and Trena Wilkerson, PhD.; and doctoral students Keith Kerschen and Ryann Shelton.

Pivotal partnership

Funded by the School of Education, MELA expanded to three classes this summer, including two classes of rising kindergarteners and a second-year class of the students from last summer, who are now entering first grade. The 28 students enrolled are from Brook Avenue and South Waco Elementary Schools. The program works in partnership with Waco ISD and the Mayborn Museum with community connections through Prosper Waco.

Working with WISD Curriculum Coordinators Gayla Reid and Ebony Cousins, the MELA teaching staff implements a research-based curriculum with supporting activities to meet the needs of each student. Waco ISD provides transportation and part-time staff help. Support from the principals — Sarah Alderete Pedrotti, BSEd ’05, at Brook Avenue and Twanna Lee at South Waco — has been pivotal to the program’s success, Cooper said.

MELA is a four-week program, lasting from July 10 to Aug. 4, at the Mayborn Museum on the Baylor campus. The museum provides important opportunities for informal math learning, Cooper said.

“The Mayborn provides appropriate classrooms with little-people chairs and tables, but also the students can venture into the wonderful exhibits,” she said. “We go on number walks throughout the museum, and we are able to go into the exhibits to experience mathematical explorations. In the Native American room, for example, the students can use the drums to count out numbers as they beat rhythms, but also create drum patterns.”

She said the experience of having class on a college campus also has an effect on the students.

“Even though they are 4 or 5 years old, they can say they are coming to a university and will start thinking about becoming a Baylor Bear one day,” she said. “It’s never too early.”

Number sense

Families are invited to a special night where the children show off their work, families can visit with the teachers, and they receive complimentary admission to the Mayborn Museum. Last year, about 85 percent of families were able to attend.

Cooper said that research shows that early math skills are a better predictor of academic success than are reading skills, but that many preschools don’t focus enough on math.

“It’s all about gaining number sense, which is composing and decomposing numbers — more than just counting,” she said. “When you think about the number 5, you can see it as a sum of 3 and 2 or of 4 and 1, and there are sets of five and counting by fives. And five can be found in the real world; for example, a nickel represents the number 5. It’s about understanding what numbers mean, not just rote counting.”

Each MELA classroom has a master teacher, plus teaching assistants who lead small groups of students. The master teachers are Emily Bray Draper, BSEd ’12; Jennifer Williams; and Raven Richard, BSEd ’17.

Teaching Assistants are senior elementary education majors Mandy Hinshaw, Kristen Lanier, Rachel Perry, Emily Taylor, and Anastasia Walton; Loren Losli, senior middle grades science major; Andrea Toledo-Castillo, junior elementary education major; and Katelyn Hamilton, BSEd ’17, in elementary education and master’s candidate.

Teaching Assistant Rachel Perry said that the experience of teaching at MELA has broadened her experience as she prepares to be an educator through the School of Education’s teacher-preparation program.

“As a junior, I had field experience teaching high-achieving students in third grade, so this is a big difference, and I am getting a lot of exposure to different age groups and developmental levels,” she said. “I’m excited to come each day! We started the first day with an assessment of where they were, and they learned so much in just the first week. If they have come this far in four days, I can’t wait to see what they do in four weeks.”

by Meg Cullar, director of communications, Baylor School of Education

ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY

Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 16,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.

ABOUT BAYLOR SCHOOL OF EDUCATION

Founded in 1919, Baylor School of Education ranks among the nation’s top 20 education schools located at private universities. The School’s research portfolio complements its long-standing commitment to excellence in teaching and student mentoring. Baylor’s undergraduate program in teacher education has earned national distinction for innovative partnerships with local schools that provide future teachers deep clinical preparation, while graduate programs culminating in both the Ed.D. and Ph.D. prepare outstanding leaders, teachers and clinicians through an intentional blend of theory and practice.

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