STEA(math) @ SLOCA - SLO Classical Academy
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Welcome to Down Home, San Luis Obispo Classical Academy’s blog! We are a classical school offering several options to make our education work for families with infants through high schoolers. Our signature hybrid program, which is part-time classroom and part-time home instruction, provides an engaging education for preschool through middle school (with full time options available). We also have a university model high school. This blog is meant to support and encourage on the home front because, in so many ways, the heart of what happens at SLO Classical Academy happens down home.

Semper discentes—always learning together.
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STEA(math) @ SLOCA

You’ve probably heard something somewhere about STEAM education—it’s kind of an educational buzzword these days, from public to private schools and beyond. This acronym stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math and is often used to emphasize a distinction from the traditional humanities subjects: history, social studies, and literature. Here at SLOCA, while our four-year cycle is built upon our literature and history, we believe that STEAM seamlessly integrates into our classical education with a twist. It shouldn’t be seen as opposing the humanities but rather as complementary to them and part of a greater endeavor of pursuing truth, goodness, and beauty in all of life.

We’ve already highlighted our Art + Music program at SLOCA. Today, resident SLOCA math expert and Lower School Director, Lisa Ann Dillon, shares with us about math!

Lisa Ann Dillon, resident math expert + Lower School Director

Math. How do you feel about it?  Most of us see it as a vital part of our kids’ education but worry if they will get what they need for the ever-changing landscape of the future. Many people have strong feelings about math, be they good or ill, but few have a middle-of-the-road reaction.  That’s probably because we can’t escape it— math is all around us. It gives us practical skills to build, manage, and discover in our everyday lives. We use it to teach us how to problem solve, how to look at the world, and to see beauty. It matters how we teach math if we want to see children succeed. Landing in the “I love math!” camp, SLOCA is committed to keeping effective, excellent math instruction front and center! 

At SLOCA, we are always looking at every curricular or pedagogical decision through the classical lens. And we are also keen to stay up on the most current research regarding best learning methods. From experience, we know students learn best when they can actively engage in their learning.  This is why we embrace the use of manipulatives and purposeful games in class from Kindergarten through Algebra.  I wish you could see the way students light up when they get to build, play Pirate Math, Factor Captor, or other games! I also wish you could hear the analytical remarks they make as the activities ignite multiple regions in their brains—just like the research claims.  

SLOCA teachers are masters at making the best use of every second in class, and not a moment is wasted.  We see the playing of math games as serious business. We are not merely filling time with games, we are filling kids’ minds with tricky math concepts! 

Four key, integrated qualities of the Singapore Math program, which we use from Kindergarten to 6th grade separate it from other curricula. They are:
Foundational Learning / Deep Mastery
Growth Mindset
Emphasis on Visual Learning
Mental Math as a Core Principle 

I know it’s easy to skip those Place Value Discs, but you don’t want to cheat your child’s brain that way! It’s easier not to ask your child about her thinking, but then you are not helping her develop the verbal skills necessary to cement her learning.  Encourage your child to look at multiple strategies for the same problem, so that you don’t oversimplify the math.  In the future, your child will need those strategies.  After working with this program for all these years, we can promise you that those who are now best thriving in Algebra and beyond, are those who played games and used manipulatives in their younger years.  Students who spend time on the games and activities that cement the math facts, surpassing mere memorization, have an easier time with more complex calculations.

We have adopted a phrase from Jo Boaler, a math expert out of Stanford, 

“Mistakes make your brain grow!”

Students are encouraged to try their hand at complex math problems which may take more than one attempt to get correct.  Because we believe there is no such thing as a “math brain—all of us have the capacity to excel at math—we support students where they are and give them the opportunity to persevere, look at things another way, and stick with it until they get it.  This is one of the ways SLOCA employs the concept of rigor, a full showing up with your whole self, to promote student growth.

Adopted directly from instructors in Singapore, SLOCA’s systematic approach to model drawing provides students with a firm visual and conceptual understanding of the word problems that plague most US students.  From Primary on, our students are making models to show what they know and by fourth grade, the word problems become algebraic in nature—even though most kids don’t realize it.  Students gain confidence in their problem-solving ability, and then they become more interested in mathematics.

In the early years, we teach multiple strategies, often asking students to “solve it another way.” All of these machinations with numbers on paper lead to solid number sense, and eventually, students become masters at moving numbers around in their minds.  By the Intermediate years, they are calculating multiplication and division mentally.  As they go up in grades, this ability expands and becomes support as they move into algebra. Then when students learn formulas and algorithms, which are readily taught and employed, most already have a deep understanding of the why behind the steps they learn.  Many of us use mental math every day without really knowing how we do, our students know when and why to employ this vital mathematical skill.

Finally, because we so highly value excellent instruction in mathematics, we embarked on a Singapore Math Video series several years ago through our sister non-profit, Wisdom Wonder Project.  SLOCA families can currently access professionally produced videos for Kindergarten, 1st grade, 2nd grade, 3rd grade and 5th grade*. And our 4th and 6th grade videos are going into production soon! Our teaching videos have students begging you to turn on their math lessons, which will turn on their power of learning and yours if you sit with them as they learn from the lessons.

*You’ll see these videos linked in grids, but you can share them with friends here!

Because we believe that the children of today will become adults who will need to solve the complex problems of tomorrow, part of our mission is to provide exemplary mathematics instruction for students, parents, and educators using Singapore Math.  When kids truly understand mathematics, they will love it and find beauty in what they discover.  And that, we hope, will give all students good feelings about math which will lead to seeing themselves as future problem solvers!

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