2013-11-01 / Schools

Students demonstrate classroom skills through ACT program

By Rick Hazeltine


HANDS-ON LEARNING—California Lutheran University student Ashlee Bowen, right, works on a project-based learning assignment with fourth-grade students in Leslie Malanche’s class at Santa Susana Elementary School on Oct. 24. 
RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers HANDS-ON LEARNING—California Lutheran University student Ashlee Bowen, right, works on a project-based learning assignment with fourth-grade students in Leslie Malanche’s class at Santa Susana Elementary School on Oct. 24. RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers Jordan Martinez and Ashlee Bowen have a problem.

As the owners of Wrist Wranglers, they are trying to figure out the best way to package their product—bracelets—in shipping envelopes they’ve already purchased.

But they aren’t standing in front of a logistics expert discussing their dilemma. Instead, they’re asking the advice of Leslie Malanche’s fourth-grade class at Santa Susana Elementary School.

For their part, the fourthgraders do their best to explain how the use of factors and arrays can help Martinez and Bowen determine the best way to package their bracelets.

“I don’t understand,” Martinez said. “How’s that work? What’s an array?”

Malanche asks her students if they can help.

Up go a sea of hands and out come the ideas.

But the kids don’t just explain; they also demonstrate. They go outside the classroom to make human arrays of different combinations of factors that make up a given number.

For the number 12, for example, they make two rows of six or six rows of two.

Spoiler alert: Bowen and Martinez aren’t the successful business owners the kids think they are, and Wrist Wranglers is a fictitious business.

The two young adults are actually sophomores studying to be teachers at Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, and each week they visit Malanche’s class to ask for help in solving the real-world problems they encounter in launching their “business.”

The program in Malanche’s class is called Mantle of the Expert, and it’s part of Project ACT ( active, collaborative teaching). The students are given real-life problems they work to solve through the four Cs: collaboration, critical thinking, communication and creativity.

ACT is used from kindergarten through sixth grade at Santa Susana in language arts, science, social studies and math instruction.

Santa Susana became involved with ACT last year after Principal Angela Baxter attended a one-day summer conference led by Cal Lutheran professor Michael McCambridge.

During the conference, Mc- Cambridge said he had a grant to initiate ACT at a school and asked if anyone was interested. Baxter, about to begin her first year as principal, said she jumped at the opportunity.

The grant ended when the 2012-13 school year was over, but Cal Lutheran has remained at Santa Susana in a volunteer capacity.

“(McCambridge) has given us the wonderful access to his students,” Baxter said.

Besides providing college role models for students, Baxter said, the ACT program has other benefits.

She said there are fewer discipline issues because students “are so engaged,” and it has even helped in welcoming new kids to the school.

“We had some students come in last spring, and that’s hard for kids,” Baxter said. “ACT was really, really helpful for (the new students) to build friendships through the classroom collaboration.”

In the classroom, Martinez and Bowen play their parts with flair, clearly enjoying their roles.

In fact, each is taking a class that shows how to use drama as a teaching tool. They said they see the benefits for Malanche’s students.

“They’re so excited to be involved in this new business,” Martinez said.

And ACT allows Malanche to keep the class moving, physically and intellectually.

“Just to get them out of their seats really, really helps,” the teacher said. “We were outside for only 10 minutes (performing the human arrays). That (the entire lesson) was more than an hour of math, and most of them stayed engaged.

“I find with the ACT strategy the children are much more engrossed in the math lesson. It’s nice to see them get excited about math. It’s the same math that’s in the workbook; it’s just presented in a different way.”

Of course, the important buy-in needs to come from the students and, Baxter said, the reviews have been good.

“I had a sixth-grader tell me, “‘I wish we always learned math this way.’”

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