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Teacher credential students Kayla Magill, left, and Emily Beard tutor Richman Elementary School students struggling in math. Photo by Karen Tapia

Teaching Math Is Elementary

Tutoring Program Helps Young Students Excel

April 27, 2010

By Debra Cano Ramos

Cynthia Gautreau, left, and Michelle Vander Veldt, both assistant professors in bilingual and elementary education, coordinate the math tutoring program offered through the collegeís new Community Mathematics Education Center. Photo by Karen Tapia

Cal State Fullerton teacher credential student Kayla Magill uses candy M&Ms to teach fractions and percentages to elementary school students struggling with learning math.

Using the colorful candy makes learning fun, and more importantly, helps reinforce math concepts of comparing fractions to percentages.

“The M&Ms make it easier for the young students to learn these math concepts because it allows them to count the color and use it in a fraction,” said Magill, who wants to teach elementary students. “It’s the greatest feeling as a teacher to see their faces light up when they understand what we’re teaching them.”

At another table inside the multipurpose room at Richman Elementary School in Fullerton, teacher credential candidate Emily Beard was using multicolor cubes to teach students about the relationship between fractions, decimals and percent equivalents.

Richman Elementary School student Jose Morales is tutored by Cal State Fullerton credential student Nicole Moncher at the new Community Mathematics Education Center. Photo by Karen Tapia

“Using manipulatives, such as cubes, are concrete and help students to better understand abstract concepts,” explained Beard, who wants to teach kindergarten. “This is a great teaching technique in mathematics because students often learn better with hands-on activities.”

Magill and Beard are among teacher candidates in the College of Education’s Elementary and Bilingual Education Department’s Multiple Subject Credential Program. Both tutor fifth- and sixth-grade students at Richman.

This spring semester, 60 Cal State Fullerton students — preparing for a multiple subject credential to teach grades K-6 — provided structured and individualized mathematics tutoring sessions for Richman students. Michelle Vander Veldt and Cynthia Gautreau, both assistant professors in bilingual and elementary education, coordinate the tutoring program, which is offered through the college’s new Community Mathematics Education Center.

The math focus reflects the university’s renewed emphasis on increasing student interest in the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Richman students Irving Oliver, left, and Enrique Sotelo, are tutored in math by university credential students Cherish Vandervort and Sarah Strauss. Photo by Karen Tapia

Enhancing Math Instruction

During the sessions, credential students use math manipulatives, such as cubes, candy or other familiar objects, to help the young students grasp basic math concepts.

The tutoring sessions not only provide academic support for the children, but also supplemental professional development for the teacher candidates, Vander Veldt said.

“The program addresses the urgent need to help children improve mathematics achievement,” she said. “At the same time, because our teacher candidates are working one-on-one with students, they are learning the tools and methodology to teach state mathematics content with greater depth and expertise and will be more effective in their math instruction as future elementary school teachers.”

Through the College of Educationís new Community Mathematics Education Center, fifth- and sixth-grade students at Richman Elementary School in Fullerton receive one-on-one tutoring in math by CSUF credential students. Photo by Karen Tapia

Through the tutoring program, credential students also plan the curriculum and work collaboratively with their peers. All of the math activities are hands-on learning opportunities that focus on conceptual development of different mathematics skills — from addition and subtraction to algebra, Gautreau noted.

Often, new elementary teachers have anxiety and apprehension about teaching math, so giving them the chance to teach the subject in a tutoring setting gives them a boost in self-confidence, added Vander Veldt. Unlike junior high and high school teachers who hold credentials to teach a specific subject, elementary school teachers hold a multiple subject credential to teach in all subject areas, including math.

Magill, who also is studying to earn a single subject credential to specifically teach math, said the program has helped her feel more comfortable teaching the subject.

“The tutoring center has helped apply what I have learned so far in the credential program and it’s been a good experience,” she said. “It has allowed me to grow as a future teacher because I not only gained experience working with these children, but it allowed me to create lesson plans, learn pacing, management, and most of all, taught me to be flexible. We were given the opportunity to experience all the things teachers must deal with on a daily basis in the classroom.”

Community Outreach

Teacher credential student Cherish Vandervort gives Richman students Enrique Sotelo, left, and Ivan Serna a lesson in math. Photo by Karen Tapia

Moreover, the program offers a valuable outreach to the local community, said Gautreau.

“This program gives student teachers the opportunity to assess the math knowledge and skills of real children in the local community, and then they help them overcome their difficulties through individualized assessment and instruction,” she said. “Our students are providing help where it is needed most.”

During this spring, Cal State Fullerton multiple subject credential students provided math tutoring to students at Richman Elementary School in Fullerton. Photo by Karen Tapia

The Community Mathematics Education Center serves low-income, mostly immigrant Latino students where families primarily speak Spanish at home, Vander Veldt said. Elementary school students are identified and referred to the program by teachers at the school.

Susan Ly, a sixth-grade teacher at Richman Elementary School, said the tutoring program has dramatically helped her students.

“I’ve seen students’ grades jump a level,” said Ly, a Cal State Fullerton alumna. “They’re more engaged in math and have changed their attitude about math.”

Mark Ellis, chair and associate professor of secondary education, Andrea M. Guillaume, professor of elementary and bilingual education, and Martin V. Bonsangue, professor of math, received $25,000 in funding through a 2008-09 University Mission and Goals Initiative to develop the tutoring program. Armando M. Martinez-Cruz, professor of math, also helped to create the curriculum. The Mathematics and Science Teacher Initiative, a California State University project to recruit math and science teachers across the state, provided some funding for the program this year, Ellis said.

Now, Vander Veldt and Gautreau, who also oversee the tutoring curriculum, are seeking grant funding to continue the program in the fall at Richman and to expand it at another local elementary school.

Media Contacts:
Michelle Vander Veldt, Elementary and Bilingual Education, 657-278-4305 or
Cynthia Gautreau, Elementary and Bilingual Education, 657-278-3639 or
Debra Cano Ramos, Public Affairs, 657-278-4027; 657-278-2414 or


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