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Math made easier

CLEVELAND TINKER Special to the Guardian
Duval Elementary School math teacher Gloria Merriex said she started using different teaching techniques about four years ago. "Last year our kids showed the most growth in gains in the whole county. About 99 percent of my kids showed growth on the math part of the FCAT."

Using innovative strategies to help children retain information has enabled a Gainesville school teacher to make learning easier for her students.

"I go back and talk about their culture. I break it down to them by using everyday situations they can relate to," said Gloria Jean Merriex, a math teacher for fifth-graders at Duval Elementary School. "The kids were having a hard time learning the LCD (lowest common denominator), and I told them to think of it as if it was a big brother and a little brother. I used the example that the big brother was 4 and the little brother was 2, and that they were marching down the sidewalk with big brother in front. I told them that the little brother had to always follow the big brother. They picked up on it like that."

When Merriex teaches regrouping, a method used to solve problems with fractions, she involves the concept of borrowing from a neighbor.

"When I was coming up we used to borrow stuff from our neighbors, so I just introduced that as part of my teaching technique," she said.

Merriex, who has been at Duval for 27 years, said that every student who enters her classroom will learn something.

"I have very high expectations for all of my students," she said. "When I walk into the room I act as if I am blindfolded, so I don't know who is who and I don't have any favorites."

She said she started using different teaching techniques about four years ago after getting frustrated by not reaching her students.

"I couldn't give up on them, so I had to figure out how to teach them better," she said.

She came up with a math rap, and after implementing it into her lesson plan, 96 percent of her students passed the math portion of the FCAT that year.

"I said wow, there must be magic in the air, and I've been using it ever since," said Merriex, an east Gainesville native. "Last year our kids showed the most growth in gains in the whole county. About 99 percent of my kids showed growth on the math part of the FCAT."

The "Rapping with Math" CD helped her students tremendously, she said, and it is being sought by teachers from around the state. The CD covers math concepts ranging from area and volume to nominal numbers and vertex.

Merriex said she has created a math dance as well. "A lot of times kids can retain information through movements. I teach them to identify concepts with certain movements."

She said her students can construct graphs by using hand movements she has taught them.

"I incorporate a lot of things into teaching. The goal is to make sure that the students learn," she said.

Professors from the University of Florida are helping Merriex develop a learning tool named "Math Made Easy."

She said that it is important students also understand what they learn.

"I make them explain to me their reasoning behind the answers they choose, whether wrong or right. I want to know their thought process," she said.

Merriex has shared her techniques with other educators in Orlando, Lake City and Belleview.

"I can give you that CD and show you my teaching style, and you still might not be successful," she said. "You have to have the desire and commitment to effectively teach kids today."