2017 News Stories

MAT students use lunch time to tutor elementary students in math concepts

by Abby Rinaldi

The two first-grade students Adrianna Parker was tutoring in math were flying through the math problems she assigned them.

"They looked at me like, 'We want a challenge,'" Parker said. 

MAT student tutors students in mathematics

A student in the College of Education's Master of Arts in Teaching program (left) tutors students in mathematics as part of the Lunch Bunch program.

So she gave them one — a math word problem that was slightly above their level. The USF Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) student watched them think and guided them with questions until she recognized a light bulb had gone off in one of the girls' heads. The student grabbed the interactive models they were using to assist their math teaching and continued to work through the problem.

After one student figured it out, she turned to the other girl and started to guide her through how to find the solution. Together, the two girls solved the word problem, using strategies Parker had taught them during her previous two lunchtime visits at Sulphur Springs Elementary.

Parker said she was struck that they took the strategies she had given them in previous sessions into consideration.

"... It might have been last week at lunch on a Thursday, but they remembered," Parker said.

This is what a rewarding day looks like in the "Lunch Bunch," a tutoring program offered by USF MAT students at Sulfur Springs Elementary School.

Parker's background is in development and family studies, but she knew she wanted to pursue work involving children. During her senior year, after an interaction she had with a girl with special at a child care facility she worked at, she said she realized she needed to be at the front of the classroom, teaching.

Parker recalls the first day of the Lunch Bunch program as nerve racking but said it became easier over time.

"It was great to get in there and be with those kids, especially because they're first-graders coming in with their lunch," Parker said. "They're wide-eyed and they see us all standing there."

MAT students participating in the program do so as part of a math methods course that students take in the College of Education's math education program. Shannon Holloman, a math coach at Sulphur Springs Elementary, said one of her goals as a math coach is to get as many people as possible involved in math education. To help reach this goal, she selects one first-grade class each year to be part of the program.

"The more people that we can get in this building just helping our students and giving them that one-on-one attention, the better our students will do, not just socially and emotionally, but (on) the academic side of it as well," she said.

Sarah van Ingen, a faculty member in the math education program at USF, says the Lunch Bunch program gives MAT students the opportunity to practice their teaching skills early in the program.

"For the children, they love this type of thing because they get a college student's undivided attention," van Ingen said. "For them it's fun, and they're also learning. For my students, they've read about how to do this, but they've never actually done it in real life. It's really cognitively demanding, and they are thinking through so many things."

Currently, in its third year, the Lunch Bunch program not only allows students to practice tutoring in math, but they also learn how to approach each student they work with individually, and to look at them with less focus on their weaknesses and more on their strengths.

For van Ingen, the Lunch Bunch program is also part of a larger goal to support math learning in elementary schools in the area.

"It is so powerful because it's done in a short amount of time – (the program is completed in) a year and a half – but the MAT students just get outstanding preparation in the most effective strategies for teaching elementary students," van Ingen said. "They really get to understand who the elementary child is, what it means to teach in diverse settings, how to think of children holistically and really meet their needs so children are engaged and loving learning."

Holloman said the Lunch Bunch program provides an opportunity for MAT students to learn math in new ways and subsequently teach the first-grade students. The idea is to implement and utilize real world examples and experiences to help not only the first-graders grow in their mathematics skill but the MAT students in their teaching skills.

"I think ultimately (the program has) provided a great bridge for students to see what's really happening in schools, because a lot of times, as teachers, what we learn in college, in a classroom, or even just at elementary school ... what you learn in your four walls we have to make it applicable to what they're going to do in real life," Holloman said.

Parker said her skillset and teaching ability grew during her time in the Lunch Bunch program and that the professors in the MAT program truly care about making her a more effective teacher.

"It's very hands-on," Parker said. "I get a lot of feedback from my professors. We're constantly conferencing and it's really that they're here for us (and) that they care about what I know, and what work I'm producing."

The MAT program at USF offers those who do not have a degree in education the opportunity to learn the skills needed to effectively teach and to obtain a Florida teaching certificate. MAT students are not just undergraduates immediately going into graduate school — some are individuals who have been successful in other fields or in the private sector and now have a desire to teach.

Students in the MAT program can choose a concentration in various areas, such as elementary education, foreign language education, science education, mathematics education, exceptional student education and other programs. Program participants gain the skills they need to be certified to teach and they also gain experience in the classroom that is coupled with an education in areas such as child psychology and classroom management — areas that help them become more prepared to teach.

"Students who enter our program really want to be excellent teachers and they know that the quality of their program (will) directly relate to the quality of their teaching," van Ingen said.

If you hold an undergraduate degree in a field not related to education and are interested in becoming a teacher, the College of Education's Master of Arts in Teaching program can help you earn the credentials needed for initial teacher certification. Learn more

About the USF College of Education:
The USF College of Education is accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (formerly NCATE), and is fully approved by the Florida Department of Education. The USF College of Education is ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of the top 100 programs in the nation, as well as in the top 30 for online graduate education programs. The USF College of Education has more than 51,000 alumni who are making a difference in the lives of children each day.