RCS students seek 'write' math answers

By Brian Sweeney
Math students in Greg Funck’s classes at Roxbury Central School are improving their skills by an innovative teaching tool that has them doing math problems on their desks. Literally.

Over the Christmas holiday, unbeknownst to students (except one who assisted with the project), Mr. Funck orchestrated a project that turned all the desks in his classroom into erasable “white boards.” Now, students work out math problems on their desks, making calculations on school equipment that has traditionally been used for unauthorized classroom doodling.

Mr. Funck said the writable desks were an immediate hit with the kids and have already boosted the learning experiences the students — seventh- and eighth-grade and algebra. He noted that the switchover to dry erase desks has had positive results in a number of areas.

Added benefits
“Students need to be actively engaged in the learning process so any down time is not good in the classroom. The one thing I have been pleasantly surprised with is that by doing work on the desks, other students are eager to get up and help each other out with problems. We were solving equations in seventh grade and I had some students struggling. Being one person, others used to have to sit and wait for me to get there to help them with their mistake, but not anymore,” the RCS math teacher explained.

He continued, “I have students who get it and will automatically get up and ask who needs help. By the end of the class, there were five or six teachers (me and students who got the math) up walking around helping others out. It was awesome!”

Student inspiration
Mr. Funck said the inspiration created for students among their peers has been gratifying to witness.

“The higher-level math students wanted more just so they could help others. This creates a safe and fun environment knowing that if there is a problem there will be help immediately. I had one student tell me that they were getting better at math because they were able to see others’ mistakes and then relate it to the problems they were having, so there have been a lot of positives so far,” he noted.

Mr. Funck explained that the desks allow students to have more space in which to work. This benefit helps cut down computation errors made by math students who often do not leave enough room in their notebook or they cannot read their own writing, he pointed out.

“I have given a few quizzes on which student are not allowed to write on the quiz until they have the problem worked out on their desk and are satisfied with it. The neatness of the papers and organization of their writing is exceptional and it makes grading much easier,” Mr. Funck said.

Enjoyable learning
Just as importantly, Mr. Funck has seen the erasable desks create a positive learning atmosphere.
“I like to have fun while teaching and want to create a fun and creative classroom environment for my students. I want students to want to come to math class because I feel if they want to be there, they are going to learn something…even if they do not plan on it. When students dread a class or a teacher, they check out and not much learning is going on,” he remarked.
The writable desks are also having a positive environmental benefit.

“The amount of paper that is being saved is tremendous. Instead of doing examples in their notebooks or scrap paper, we now do 90 percent of examples on the desks.”

Mr. Funck had been researching the dry erase desks and took note of some problems that others had encountered with the product. He eventually determined that nearly all of the problems with the product stemmed from improper application techniques. Working in conjunction with Superintendent Tom O’Brien, Building Principal Eric Windover and Maintenance Director Alan Davis, Mr. Funck set the wheels in motion for the classroom innovations.

Following the rules
The instructions call for desks to be cleaned and primed before receiving multiple coats of the dry erase paint. The desks then needed to sit for a minimum of three days before being utilized. RCS senior Kennedy Faraci assisted Mr. Funck with the project and the desks were ready to go when students returned from the Christmas holiday.

“I told no students I was doing this, so it was a surprise to everyone when they walked back in on January 2. They were all very excited and could not wait to write on them,” he recalled.
Some of the comments that the math teacher has received from include:
“Math is now more fun and I like learning on the desks versus notebooks.”
“It keeps us more focused on our work.”

And, a benefit to which nearly every student — past or present — can relate:
“I can write on the desks without getting in trouble.”
Mr. Funck said the dry erase desktops are a perfect fit with his teaching philosophy.
“I do not give a lot of notes since I feel math is more pencil to paper (marker to desk) than notes and reading. I do not follow a textbook at all in any of my classes I teach.

Better than books
“The students have textbooks that I assign homework out of and they can use for a reference, but textbooks are never out while notes and/or teaching are going on. Textbooks to me are boring and hard to follow, especially in math. Textbooks sometimes complicate things and make it seem harder than it actually is,” he commented.

Mr. Funck added, “Math is all about repetition and process, and doing as many examples per day on the topic at hand is what is going to create better math students. By giving students an option to write on their desks has prompted many of the students to want to do more.”
That’s music to the ears of any teacher.