Cluster Tutoring is lucky to have two more math experts serving as volunteers. But they’re not just helping and coaching: Cathy Kelso developed a whole new curriculum for elementary-grade students.
Last year was the first year tutors of students up to grade 5 received extra teaching tips through the “Just the Facts” program, which is based on the Chicago Public Schools’ Common Core math curriculum. But Cathy is no stranger to curriculum development. Although she’s now retired, she wrote a lot of math curriculum for elementary grades when she was on staff at the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois at Chicago.
“Just the Facts” packets in three-ring binders are available in the Cluster libraries at both locations. They will range in levels from 1-15, starting with addition and basic math and moving up to multiplication. Addition facts will be in packets 1–6 and multiplication facts will be in packets 11-15. The gap is for a proposed set of subtraction fact packets. If the addition and multiplication packets go well, the program might expand next year. Cathy also is now working on division packets.
“We go over the program with younger students and their tutors at the beginning,” Cathy said. “It’s just to get them started. This way, we can see students’ strengths and weaknesses.” She works with tutoring pairs in small groups so she and Vicki can give each pair individual attention, introducing the material and making sure tutors understand the approach.
“It will help them get a solid grounding,” Cathy said.
The packets contain problems, quick-look cards, games, and assessment sheets, which Executive Director Kara Kalnitz collects to evaluate how students are doing in math. The students also can earn learning incentive points for Cluster’s YEA! (You’ve Earned an Award) program.
“The point is for students to learn strategies,” Cathy said. “Hopefully, they’ll have mastered the material by the end of the year. That’s the dream.” The best path to math fluency for all students, she added, is for students to develop underlying concepts and strategies that will lead to a quicker response.
Vicki is no stranger to teaching math, either. She retired in 2015 after 26 years of teaching 5th grade in Cary, Illinois, and moved to Oak Park to be near family. While she taught every subject in 5th grade, she ended up specializing in math, developing some math curriculum of her own.
Ironically, Vicki used some of the math materials in her 5th grade classes that Cathy developed at her days at UIC and U of C. “It’s a thrill to get to work with her,” Vicki said.
At Cluster, besides helping Cathy introduce students to the “Just the Facts” curriculum, Vicki serves as a math coach for students in grades K-6. “If it looks like someone’s stuck, I go visit them,” she said. “I’ve been able to connect with a lot of these kids and tutors.”
Vicki said she was glad to make a connection with Cluster. “You really miss working with kids. Working with this program keeps me growing as well.”
Both women say they enjoy working with each other, too. But when you’ve got two math experts ready to help, the real beneficiaries are the students.