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Dr. Nicki Newton (left) -- shown chatting with Colleen Litwin, the numeracy coach at Bowers --  says that creating engaging math games helps students achieve at higher levels.

Dr. Nicki Shows How To Make Math Fun

Dr. Nicki Newton believes in what she calls the “game-ification” of math.

As in, play games to make math fun.

“Because that leads to engagement, which leads to sustained practice, which leads to student achievement,” Dr. Newton said during the break between a “doubleheader” math night at Manchester High School on Wednesday.

Dozens of people filled Room 293 for hour-long sessions that started at 4:30 p.m. and again at 6 p.m. – sessions designed for the parents and guardians of students in kindergarten through grade 5.

Dr. Newton is a Bridgeport-based and nationally renowned consultant and author who has been working with Manchester teachers since last school year. This is the first time she presented directly to Manchester parents.

“This is really about what parents can do that’s quick and easy to help their kids with math,” Dr. Newton said. “It’s getting parents comfortable with the (Common) Core and showing them that there are resources out there to help them help their kids.”

Mission accomplished, said the parents of one kindergartner.

“It was really helpful,” said Vipin Singhvi, who attended the early session along with his wife Milli. Their son, Nihar, is in kindergarten at Robertson Elementary.

“We learned lots of games that will help children be interested in the subject and learn the material,” said Vipin, who is a consultant for an IT company.

His wife concurred, saying the games would help Nihar learn his mental math.

Dr. Newton is enthusiastic and charismatic, and likes to use the phrase “math with a smile.”

Her presentations were hands-on and interactive. Parents sat at tables – in some cases joined by their children – and did a variety of activities. For example, Dr. Newton had them rolling dice, saying that younger students could try to add the numbers while older students could multiply them. She suggested lots of variations on such exercises, but never strayed far from her game-ification philosophy.

Colleen Litwin, an instructional numeracy coach at Bowers Elementary School, said Dr. Newton has a knack for demystifying mathematics in the age of the Common Core.

“The Common Core requires that students understand math more deeply,” said Litwin, noting the need for students to better understand the relationship between numbers rather than just master formulas. 

Dr. Newton met with all of Manchester’s elementary teachers last school year and she has met a few more times with just the numeracy coaches.

Dr. Santosha Oliver -- who is the district’s director of teaching and learning for science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics – said Dr. Newton will work with district numeracy coaches later this year, and added that these coaches are developing the capacity to deliver key tenets of her message directly to the classroom teachers throughout town.

In keeping with the theme of making math fun, the evening had a bit of a party feel, including balloons outside at the entrance and free pizza served in the hallway.

Parents with young children had free babysitters available across the hall in Room 290 – where MHS students recruited from the drill team and the Young Women’s Leadership Group waited to play checkers, tic tac toe and other games with the little ones, some of whom opted to watch a movie that was playing.

“It was fun and nice to be able to help parents out so they could focus on the future,” said Caitlin Crowe, a senior who volunteered to help out (and who earned community service hours for her time).

Latasha Turnquest (director of the district’s Family Resource Centers) and Rhonda Philbrick (the district’s equity director) collaborated on the childcare operation.

There was even a drawing at the end of the presentations, with Dr. Oliver handing out copies of a Newton book as well as tickets to the Connecticut Science Center to lucky winners.

“It feels good for everything to have come together as well as it did,” Dr. Oliver said.

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