Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Pasco 8-year old on math: 'I like doing this'

Chasco Elementary school third-graders, Olivia Siciliano, 9, left, and Alicyn Cosh, 9, right, react while playing a game teaching students about equivalent fractions, as Christopher Gourlay, 9, ponders numerators and denominators. Their small-group math instruction is attracting the attention of other schools.


Chasco Elementary school third-graders, Olivia Siciliano, 9, left, and Alicyn Cosh, 9, right, react while playing a game teaching students about equivalent fractions, as Christopher Gourlay, 9, ponders numerators and denominators. Their small-group math instruction is attracting the attention of other schools.


Betsy Valentine's portable classroom at Chasco Elementary buzzes with the chatter of third-graders talking math.

One group of six sits at a table with Valentine exploring equivalent fractions. Another small group creates designs using small wooden geometric shapes and then challenges the others to recreate them using the same number of pieces.

Others lie on the floor figuring algebraic equations. Some deal out cards and then calculate the average. Yet others roll dice and use different math functions to come up with the largest result.

After 15 minutes, the students shift, with Valentine getting another group of six whom she helps not with fractions but with multiplication while the rest of the class keeps working at stations — though many of them hardly consider it work at all.

"I like doing this," 8-year-old Blake Deshazer said of his teacher's independent style of math instruction. "You're in control of everything you're doing. She's not saying, 'Now class, do 5 x 6 x 25.' "

That's for sure. Valentine — Pasco's 2009 math teacher of the year — adheres to the philosophy that "proximity is key," meaning that small groups with more focus on each students' needs yields better results. Her method has proven so successful that Chasco leaders have encouraged all their teachers to adopt it.

Not only that, other schools are sending teams to Chasco to look into how they can use it. Three scheduled visits came in the past week alone, with more planned for this week. With money tight, finding ideas that work within other local schools is one cost-effective way for schools to improve the way they serve students.

"We're always looking for something new," said Gulf Trace Elementary principal Hope Schooler, who brought seven teachers to Chasco on Wednesday for a daylong investigation of small-group math. "We want to see what they are doing in math that seems to be working."

To many educators, the notion of moving to small-group instruction for math makes a lot of sense once they see it in action. They already use small groups and center-based activities for reading, so they can better pinpoint their lessons to students' needs.

"Reading scores are going up," said Gulf Trace K-1 teacher Audrey D'Amico. "Let's try what works in a different area."

Gulf Trace 4-5 teacher Sandra Rivera was sold before visiting a single classroom.

"I think it's really going to motivate the kids to learn math," Rivera said. "Right now we have about 70 percent who are motivated, but the remaining 30 percent, the minute you mention the word math, they turn off. These kids are really going to be targeted."

The classroom visits pushed the visiting teachers' interest to even higher levels.

They watched with amazement as the students challenged themselves to perform tougher, more in-depth math skills which seemed more like games than class work. They snagged copies of lesson plans, supply lists and other items they can use to put the concept in play, perhaps even before the end of this year.

Chasco assistant principal Judy Cosh urged the teachers to observe Valentine's classroom as well as others.

Valentine has nearly perfected the system over several years and this year has seen great gains. When the year began, 37 percent of her students were at grade level. By year's end, 94 percent were there, with 67 percent of the class at the equivalent of Level 5 on the FCAT.

"Variation is so key," Cosh said. "You have to do what is right for you and your students."

Jumping in too fast can lead to chaos, disappointment and an abandoned practice, not because it doesn't work but because you can't control it.

"Find what will work for you," Cosh stressed.

Chasco third-grade teacher Jomary Schulz agreed. She said it took her a couple of years to feel comfortable using the method, which she learned from Valentine.

Now, she feels like a pro. And her student gains show it, too.

At the start of this year, none of Schulz's 17 students were at grade level in math. By the end of the year, 71 percent of them were at grade level or above.

"The kids are engaged. They love it," she said. "They keep each other on track. … They're learning the content before it's ever taught … so we can dig deeper into the concepts."

Valentine developed her system after seeing that group instruction wasn't reaching all of the students. She admitted that the daily small-group math instruction does make for more work, as she must create more variety of lessons for the different achievement levels of her students.

"It makes me have to stay very organized and on top of things," she said. "But I feel like in the past I was kind of penalizing children" by forcing them to sit through a lecture, whether they already understood the material or not. "If you know something, why am I going to teach it to you?"

The kids' response validated the effort though, both in their strong scores and their attitude.

"I do love math," said 9-year-old Isabela Flores, as she worked on geometry problems that she was stunned to learn are eighth-grade material. "Even though I sometimes do bad at math, I still love it."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at

New series

What works?

Have you seen a particularly impressive and successful program, activity or teacher in Pasco schools? We plan to focus on what works in your schools over the next year, and welcome your input as we decide what to write about. Send your ideas to reporter Jeffrey S. Solochek at

Pasco 8-year old on math: 'I like doing this' 05/16/09 [Last modified: Saturday, May 16, 2009 2:02pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Comedian and activist Dick Gregory dies at 84


    The comedian Dick Gregory rose to national prominence in the early 1960s as a black satirist whose audacious style of humor was biting, subversive and topical, mostly centered on current events, politics and above all, racial tensions. His trademark was the searing punchline.

    Dick Gregory, a comedian, activist and author, died Saturday. [Tribune News Service, 2011]
  2. Winter Haven police investigating armed robbery at Dollar General


    WINTER HAVEN — Police are investigating an armed robbery Friday night of a Dollar General store on W Lake Ruby Drive.

  3. Rowdies settle for draw at home


    ST. PETERSBURG — The good news for the Rowdies is that they still haven't lost a game at Al Lang Stadium since late April. The bad news is they had to settle for a 1-1 tie against Ottawa on Saturday night in front of 6,710 sweaty fans.

  4. Bats come to life, but Rays' freefall continues (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG —The six runs seemed like a ton, just the second time the Rays had scored that many in a game during their numbing two-plus-weeks stretch of offensive impotency, and amazingly, the first time at the Trop in nearly two months.

    Lucas Duda connects for a two-run home run in the sixth, getting the Rays within 7-5. A Logan Morrison home run in the ninth made it 7-6, but Tampa Bay couldn’t complete the comeback.
  5. 'Free speech rally' cut short after massive counterprotest


    BOSTON — Thousands of demonstrators chanting anti-Nazi slogans converged Saturday on downtown Boston in a boisterous repudiation of white nationalism, dwarfing a small group of conservatives who cut short their planned "free speech rally" a week after a gathering of hate groups led to bloodshed in Virginia.

    Thousands of people march against a “free speech rally” planned Saturday in Boston. About 40,000 people were in attendance.