Would youngsters learn math better through movement? Do healthy habits raise kindergartners' self-esteem and academic achievement? Does improving social skills help first-graders learn?

These and other research questions – and answers – were presented at a July 21 mini-conference celebrating the latest graduates of the Saint Mary's Teachers for Tomorrow Program, who have just earned their Master's of Art in Teaching degrees. Fifteen of 17 graduates presented their action research findings from their spring semester of teaching in various elementary schools in the East Bay.

The research is designed to help them solve classroom problems and improve their teaching performance, according to Teachers for Tomorrow co-coordinators Jerry Brunetti and Sue Marston.

"It's not just their perseverance that we're celebrating today, but the stellar quality of their work," Brunetti said in kicking off the conference.

Lindsay Short, who taught third grade in a private school in Lafayette, researched how integrating technology into her math curriculum could help her 26 students learn. She pointed out that 30 years ago, calculators were introduced into classroom as a new technology, but now all sorts of technology tools are available, and teachers who are confident in using them found that students learned more in class.

Short photographed students lying in a triangle and students made an electronic flip chart presentation. Short also used an "active board" that plugged into her computer and allowed her to respond to flip charts with an electronic device.

Students using technology showed a 17 percent increase in performance during her six-week research project, while students not using it had a 15 percent increase. She surveyed them and got consistent results – the students said about certain tools, "This is my favorite because I got to use it" instead of the ones she used.

Lauren Schultze, who taught in first grade at a rural public school, looked into the effects of social skills activities on some of her students' self-esteem and academic achievement. She focused on two boys and two girls, and used activities from the Tribes Learning Communities, a system that includes collaborative learning. Schultze said she had struggled with her own self-esteem in schools when she was young.

"I associated learning with stress and frustration," she said.

The students she studied had varying esteem issues, and one's father had recently died. They told her they enjoyed doing the social skills activities and enjoyed working in small groups, and she observed a positive change in their behavior and their classroom etiquette. However, in tests before and after, she found their academic achievements mixed; two showed no change, one did worse and one did better.

Maggie MacFarlan researched whether movement could help her kindergarten students learn math better. Four of her five subject students improved in their math work and engagement, she said.

Instead of solving problems with pencil and paper, MacFarlan's five students did such things as add by stepping into a circle or jumping on a line. She said they enjoyed using movement and not just mental skills, and that she plans to teach through movement more in her classroom.

"We need to remember that our students are just children," she said. "They need to get up and move."

And about that question of whether healthy habits improve academic achievement? Nakita Thomas said she found that many of her kindergarten students in a suburban public school knew what healthy habits were, but didn't always follow them.

Through observing and surveying students, Thomas said she concluded that teaching students about healthy habits didn't improve their academic performance – at least during her short six-week research time. However, she said that through a positive environment (like bringing fruits and vegetables into class), students increased their self-esteem and willingness to complete assignments.

Thomas said she plans to keep a healthy habits program in her classroom.

"I want them to know that healthy habits are good, and they should be doing them," she said.

Other graduates are: Emily Awad, Heather Brice, Rachel Carion, Lauren Clark, Brittany Fogarty, Megan Gemma, Megan Henze, Samantha Levine, Maria Mendoza, Carolyn Morison, Moira Reilly Rutiz, Amanda Van Vleet and Erin Whitbred.

Learn more about the Teachers for Tomorrow Program.

-- Erin Hallissy

Office of College Communications

Photo by Gabrielle Diaz '11

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