School is out for the summer for elementary students in Ephraim, but there is still some fun school work to do. This work is fun partly because it is courtesy of two giant papier-mache dinosaurs, Readasaurus and Mathadon, who will sponsor a water-slide party in the fall for the students who learn during the summer.
Readasaurus has been encouraging school time and summer time reading for over a decade now but has just recently been joined by Mathadon who prods the kids to work on their math. Six-foot-long Mathadon was the result of an Eagle Scout service project this year by Kenny Dove of Ephraim, who had to collect newspaper for over a month from friends to get enough to create the likeable paper mache dinosaur.Mathadon sent home 50 math problems with each Ephraim student for the summer. The surprising result is that even though they are the worst kind of problems, story problems, the kids are working on them. Many of the problems can be done more than once, and the kids are doing them more than once. The reward from the kid's point of view will be treats at the annual fall Readasaurus party for the students that also worked on summer reading.
In Ephraim this summer kids are collecting popsicle sticks, keeping track of the miles traveled each day on summer vacations, counting things that come in 6's and 2's in the store, making rain gages and clocks, and recording the daily temperature.
The only problem in the Baker house so far is explaining that some of the problems can be worked without actually doing the experiment. "If you had peanut butter, tuna, jam, pickles, and catsup, how many different sandwiches could you make?" The problem booklet does indicate that only Oscar the Grouch will be able to eat some of the sandwiches, but that doesn't prohibit their construction.
Along with this sandwich problem is the assignment of finding the average number of bread slices in a loaf. The real problem here is the definition of a slice. How big do the heels have to be to consider them slices? A summer consultation with the teacher may be necessary to resolve this serious issue, and the students don't seem reluctant to make a call when required by something as important as completing 50 math problems or projects during the summer.
The summer reading program, sponsored by the Readasaurus, requires reading for two hours each week for any ten summer weeks. Since the theme this year is "diving into summer reading," one of the books should be about any creature that lives in or likes water. In keeping with the water creature theme, the fall party will be at a local water slide.
The reading program also includes required visits to the library story hour and the bookmobile. Parents have considerable discretion in counting other educational visits or in substituting other math problems. The parents are the final arbiters who sign off each requirement. I may strike a deal with my elementary student to sign off on the problems if she doesn't do the sandwich project. Who will eat the peanut butter and catsup sandwich?
The success of the program is partly with teachers involving parents. Parents are not only the final judges of when a problem or assignment is completed, but voluntarily staff the reading hour at the local library that is being encouraged by Readasaurus.
The real reward for the students, according to Ephraim Elementary School faculty, is not the party or the treats, but the fact that students will continue to learn during the summer break.
This means that teachers will not have to play catch up in the fall to the same degree as if students spent the summer vacation just playing. The message to the students is that learning is fun and not just a school activity.
- Roger Baker is associate professor of English/education at Snow College. Comments or questions about "Learning Matters" may be addressed to Dr. Roger Baker, English Department, Snow College, Ephraim, UT 84626