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While on spring break many children found that a math boot camp encourages playful problem solving.  Spring break camps were a fun way to continue the learning while having a vacation from regular school work.

The best thing is that these learning activities were just plain fun. Playing games and throwinng paper airplanes were just some of the approaches students took in one program to solve math problems

In Modesto, about 100 Orville Wright Elementary second- through sixth-graders took part in the voluntary math boot camp taught by students from California State University, Stanislaus.

Kailyn said she was feeling definitely smarter Friday after figuring the distance between the longest paper airplane throw, 20 linoleum tiles in the school entry hall, and her own toss, which flipped and crashed at three. Before pacing off the 17 tiles, she pondered whether to start counting at, or after, the tile with her plane. Fierce concentration furrowed her brow.

“She’s solving word problems. It’s just not written on a piece of paper,” said Wright Principal Heather Sherburn, watching Kailyn work it through.

The state Capitol took a minute Friday to praise April as Mathematics Awareness Month. “We want California students in all grades to engage with mathematics, because a math-based education is key to preparing for a career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” said Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, during a weekly radio address. Participation of girls is particularly needed, he said.

Kailyn was way ahead of him. Her class saved kids from pretend-sinking ships by clumping in twos, threes and 10s. Second-graders also played a version of the game show “Deal or No Deal” to learn place values – was giving up 10 to get 100 a good deal?

Fourth-grader Kialah Gaines worked on the same concept, but she used a stack of seven foam cups, each with numerals up through 9 circling its rim. The top cup had no zero. The second cup had one zero tucked below the rim (the tens place). The third had two zeros, and so on. Twisting the different cups, she could create 9,999,999 numbers, and zero.

“You can rotate it, without erasing the numbers, and switch it,” she said, demonstrating. Kialah learned place values in regular class, and said, “now I get it.”

To help cement the learning, aspiring math teacher Maria Sandoval had youngsters use the stacked cups in different ways. “We had the kids say it out loud, as well as create the numbers. They had to recite it, create the largest number, create the smallest number,” said Sandoval, a math major at Stanislaus State.

University student John Dumaguing, taking a break from heated “Deal or No Deal” shout-outs, said teaching second-graders “is just a lot of fun.” But the fun comes after a 15-hour training session in bringing math theory to elementary reality.

Stanislaus State runs two math camps each spring break, one at Wright Elementary and the other at the university campus in Turlock, said math Professor Viji Sundar. Sundar said the program has applied for more funding to serve more low-income area schools next year.

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