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At Giblyn Elementary, a ‘whole body’ approach to math

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It looked as if the fourth-graders at Leo F. Giblyn Elementary School in Freeport were playing a game of Twister on colorful floor mats on Monday. They weren’t, however. The energetic students were solving math equations and learning how to tell time using “Math Mats” provided by a grant from the Freeport Education Foundation.

“They’re actually using their whole body to solve math,” said Giblyn math specialist Jahn Corbo.

The Math Mats, introduced by a company called Math Movement, were used during a parent night at the school earlier this year. That evening, students and parents worked together to solve addition and subtraction equations and to figure out how to tell time on an analog clock using their bodies and rulers.

The mats were popular, so Corbo applied for a FEF grant to purchase them. She said she believed students need to take a multisensory approach to learning math, which the mats provide.

Corbo received $1,500 from FEF, and bought seven mats. Included with them were lessons on place value, addition, subtraction, telling time, fraction equations, shapes and higher place values in the millions and billions.

“A lot of kids have trouble with the concrete and pictorial methods of math,” Corbo said. “I feel that if they’re using their hands, their bodies, the visual part of it, [it’s] going to help them see and recognize.”

Giblyn Assistant Principal Amy Lederer said that teachers received the mats in December. As she walked through the classroom, where the mats were laid out, she watched the students, who were physically engaged with the math problems. “They love it,” she said. “This can motivate them.”

The mats immerse students in math equations, Corbo explained. Instead of sitting through a lecture on how to solve fraction equations or find the hundreds digit in numbers, they move around the mats and jot their answers on worksheets.

“There are times in our classrooms that we don’t have time to do more hands-on activities,” Corbo said. “So bringing in something like this helps us bring more to the lesson [to make it] more engaging.”

The fractions mat, where students were given a shot not only at finding common denominators, but also understanding the concept of how wholes split into halves and fourths, appeared to be the favorite station.

Charlotte Batt, 9, said she was happy to see the fractions come to life while she hopped around the mat.

While Jaden McLeod, 10, moved around to each station, he said he was eager to get to the fractions mat. Fractions, he said, were his favorite. “This was fun,” McLeod said. “I liked the fractions mat the best because I got to jump around.”

Fourth-grade teacher George Di-Giovanni has used the mats in his classes since they were delivered to the school, usually to introduce new lessons. “It gets them super-excited,” he said of his students. “It gives them a baseline or a visual to help them remember.”