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Franklin College instructor makes math lessons add up


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From left: Creekside Elementary school fourth graders Callum Buchanan, Nicholas Coy and Chloey Hoy work with Franklin College professor Paul Fonstad once each week to review fourth grade reading lessons. Paul Fonstad volunteers at Creekside Elementary every Thursday morning.
From left: Creekside Elementary school fourth graders Callum Buchanan, Nicholas Coy and Chloey Hoy work with Franklin College professor Paul Fonstad once each week to review fourth grade reading lessons. Paul Fonstad volunteers at Creekside Elementary every Thursday morning.


Once a week, a Franklin College professor teaches math to six fourth-graders and takes notes about what the 10-year-old students are learning.

That information will be useful to his other set of students, who are training to become elementary school teachers.

Assistant professor Paul Fonstad teaches math and elementary education courses at Franklin College, and earlier this year he wanted to spend time in an elementary school classroom to learn about math lessons for fourth-grade students. So he volunteered to help teach math with Creekside Elementary School teacher Beth Hoeing once each week.

Working regularly at Creekside shows Fonstad how elementary school math lessons are different today compared with 10 years ago, so he can adjust his lessons at Franklin College. The partnership also means students in Hoeing’s class who get lost or confused by a lesson have more chances to work one-on-one with a teacher, Hoeing said.

Hoeing has 32 fourth-graders in her class, one of the largest classrooms in the school district; and most of her students are in the high-ability program and learning fifth-grade math lessons. Fonstad can work with the six students completing fourth-grade lessons, while Hoeing works with the others.

“The more time that (students) spend with a teacher, the more time they’ll have to grasp a concept,” Hoeing said.

Teaching all 32 students at the same time is difficult, especially since the students are split between fourth- and fifth-grade math lessons.

Teachers typically don’t want elementary school classrooms to have more than 25 students, but this year Hoeing and several other teachers have larger class sizes because Franklin had to cut 18 teaching positions at the end of last school year.

The school district has to cut an average of $3.5 million in spending each year for the next decade, and cutting the 18 teachers is saving Franklin about $1 million this year, but it also means some classrooms will have 30 or more students for at least 10 years.

One of the problems with larger class sizes is that teachers have less time to give extra help to students who need it. Fonstad’s weekly visits help ensure all students get assistance if they need it, Hoeing said.

Because Franklin won’t be able to replace the positions that were cut, school officials need to look for qualified volunteers in the community who can help teach students, Hoeing said.

“It’s about working smarter, not harder, and getting these resources into the classroom. It’s using what we have to the best of our abilities,” Hoeing said. “And if we have people in the community that are willing and want to come in to take these types of volunteer positions, then we definitely need to use those resources. Because, unfortunately, some of those other resources are gone.”

Fonstad takes the six students studying fourth-grade math to a separate room and works with them for more than an hour. He uses the same textbook and assignments as Hoeing, but he can adjust the lessons and explain them a different way if a student doesn’t understand. For example, if a student doesn’t understand a lesson on fractions and probability, Fonstad will try to explain the concept differently or use different examples to show the student how to solve the problems.

Sometimes students just need to hear a lesson explained a different way, Fonstad and Hoeing said.

The time in the classroom also keeps Fonstad up-to-date on what students are learning and how. After he returns from Creekside, he reviews his college classroom lessons to see if any of the concepts he’s teaching his students need to be updated.

Fonstad said he has to make sure the students in Franklin College’s elementary education program understand everything there is to know about the math lessons fourth-graders are learning. That way they’ll see the problems students typically have with those lessons and will know how to help them, he said.

“The more I can do to see what the students I’m going to be teaching are going to be facing, the better I can prepare my students,” Fonstad said.

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