Summer Camps: A Fun Way to Reinforce Math Skills

By Tichenor, Mercedes; Plavchan, Joan | Journal of Instructional Psychology, March 2010 | Go to article overview

Summer Camps: A Fun Way to Reinforce Math Skills


Tichenor, Mercedes, Plavchan, Joan, Journal of Instructional Psychology


Faculty members from a university teacher education department partnered with a local school district to develop a summer camp program for children at-risk. This four week summer camp for elementary students provides reading and math intervention to rising first graders. This article discusses the math aspects of the camp, including camp lessons, activities, and assessments.

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Several years ago, faculty members from a university teacher education department partnered with a local school district to develop a summer camp program for children at-risk. This four week summer camp for elementary students provides reading and math intervention to rising first graders who reside in a nearby high poverty neighborhood. The math instruction specifically focuses on number sense, place value, money, and problem solving. These target areas, selected after meeting with first grade teachers and district math specialists, were identified as areas that first grade students need to understand to be successful in second grade. Although the camp provides instruction in both reading and math skills, this article discusses the math aspects of the camp (for more information on the reading component, please contact the authors).

The math instruction was planned with two goals in mind. First, we want students to make sense of the math they learned in first grade (to promote conceptual understanding) and second, we want students to enjoy doing math (to promote positive attitudes towards math). In order to achieve these goals, we planned specific activities and experiences for students. For example, the children have many opportunities to work with hands-on activities, discuss their thinking with teachers and peers, play math games, make math books, keep math journals, and rotate through various math stations.

Since the first summer camp five years ago, we have offered the camp each year, refining, tweaking, and sometimes, making modifications to the program. Although we have expanded the number of students who are invited to attend the camp each year by increasing the number of classrooms, we have kept the size of the classes fairly small, ranging from 12-15 students. To recruit children to participate in the summer camp, first grade teachers nominate students who they believe would benefit from the instructional time during the summer. School administrators then send camp invitations and information to parents and guardians. Our first priority is to offer the camp to students who may not receive other academic support during the summer months.

Over the years, camp staff included veteran teachers; many have been graduates from the partnering university's teacher education program, university faculty, graduate students, and preservice teachers. The preservice teachers are hired as teaching assistants and have either completed their senior internship experience or are ready to student teach in the next semester. Funding for the summer camp is provided through the school district and the Hollis Institute for Educational Reform (benefactor for the University's Professional Development School Project). Specifically, the district provides school accommodations (we use the site designated for summer school), transportation and meals, while the university provides salaries and instructional materials for the program.

Camp Schedule

During each of the four weeks of the camp, various math skills are emphasized and reviewed. We begin the first week by focusing on place value. Since this is a crucial concept for students to understand, and a foundation for other mathematics, we decided to begin with this topic. Place value is also reviewed throughout the entire program. During the camp's second week, counting money, sorting money and making change is the focus of instruction. During week three, fact families, missing addends and related math facts are highlighted, and finally, all skills are reviewed during week four. …

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