Summer’s here and the teaching continues at Middleton Elementary School in Woodbury. But this is none of that teacher-at-the-whiteboard stuff.
Instead, Megan Zachman and her fellow second-grade instructors are churning out videos — 36 of them by summer’s end — for a new website Zachman has launched giving last year’s students a chance to brush up on past lessons and sample third-grade challenges ahead.
Visitors to www.almostathirdgrader.com will notice that Zachman and her colleagues enjoy taking a light touch to subjects ranging from nouns and verbs to multiple-digit addition and subtraction. Any student with a computer can access it, but it’s the Middleton kids who will appreciate the familiar faces populating the scenes and lessons.
There are links to worksheets and a “poll of the day,” too, one of which asked: “Where is your favorite place to work on math?”
Yes, math can be fun.
Zachman, 29, came up with the idea for almostathirdgrader.com while visiting earlier this year with her brother, Dave Fowler, a technology entrepreneur based in San Francisco. She said she was looking for a way to help students retain knowledge and hopefully get them off to a faster start in September. Third grade, in fact, is a big year for kids, with the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments and a more challenging curriculum awaiting them.
To prepare for the videos, Zachman said that she and other members of Middleton’s second-grade teaching team — Erin Wolfe, Ginger Garry, Diane Peine, Jennifer Thorne and April Edwards — reviewed the standards that children were to have mastered last year and asked themselves, “What do we want the kids to remember?”
The resulting skits offer reviews plus opportunities to put the learning into practice.
For a lesson on algebra, the team used Garry’s dog, Gunner, to develop equations involving missing dog treats and tennis balls. Viewers are told that Gunner, who likes playing with tennis balls, had 25 at the start. An exasperated Garry then is shown holding only four of them. The teacher is left to search around the yard for the others while students are asked to calculate how many are missing.
“There are 21 balls in the yard,” the narrator eventually states. “Good luck, Miss Garry. You’ll need it.”
The algebra lesson appeared on July 1, but it can be accessed by students at any time. Zachman posts three videos each Sunday for students to view that week. Recently, on a Monday, she said that the website already had 135 visitors by noon that day.
Emerson Siefken, who was in Zachman’s class last year, checks out the site each week and absorbs all three lessons in one sitting, said his mother, Barbara Siefken. Emerson, asked about the site, replied: “It’s awesome.”
Said his mother, “It’s made our summer review very easy. We’re grateful for it.”
Of Zachman and her sometimes entertaining poll questions, Barbara Siefken said, “She’s kind of quirky and goofy. I don’t know if you picked up on that.”
Zachman, who is volunteering her time, said that each video takes about five hours to complete. She has taught at Middleton for seven years and is about to enter her third year as a second-grade teacher. Before then, she taught first and fifth grades at Middleton.
The range of experience makes one wonder whether Zachman, who still has a few videos left to shoot this summer, could expand the project to other grades.
“Maybe in a year,” she said.