Meet Coach Cheryl - Math Coordinator Extraordinaire

RSS is thrilled to welcome Cheryl Fricchione to our community this year as our Elementary Math Coordinator.
 “Coach Cheryl”, as she is affectionately known to students, is dually certified in Elementary Education and Mathematics and has over 12 years of teaching experience in a variety of settings, including public, independent, urban and suburban. She attended Duke University as an undergraduate, holds a Master of Science in Mathematics Education from Drexel University, and earned her New Jersey Supervisor’s Certificate at Rowan University in June.

Here at RSS, Cheryl’s days are spent working with teachers and students to enhance the math program as she helps to create a fun and accessible environment around learning math. Elementary Division Head, Colleen Dundon said, “We have wanted to add a math coordinator position for some time. I am glad we waited to find Cheryl. She's knowledgeable, approachable and actively listens to teachers. Coach Cheryl has really hit the ground running!”

Coach Cheryl has done extensive work with the Math Forum, an award-winning website and one of the most popular online math resources for students and teachers. She served as a key member of an NSF-funded project aimed at improving mathematics teachers’ ability to formatively assess their students’ understanding and provide appropriate and valuable feedback. She also attended the Coaching Mathematics Institute at Mount Holyoke College and studied under Dr. Virginia Bastable, one of the co-authors of the Investigations in Number, Data and Space K-5 curriculum and the Developing Mathematical Ideas professional development curriculum.

Coach Cheryl has presented workshops at locations across the country, ranging from local schools to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Annual Meeting and Exposition, and has also served as a consultant to the University of Washington Center for Game Science. For the past five years, she has also worked systematically with small groups of elementary and middle school teachers to support and deepen their instruction. She will also be presenting at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Conferences this April! Coach Cheryl’s specific areas of interest include the consistent and effective use of discourse, technology and conceptual teaching.
Below, you’ll find a Q&A with Coach Cheryl, explaining the benefits of having a Math Coordinator position in a school, as well as why learning math is so important to childhood development.

Q: What do you specifically do as the Elementary Math Coordinator?
 
A: Effective mathematics instruction is based on “meeting the students where they are” and helping them make and build upon connections, but this is easier said than done. There are numerous reasons a student can get an answer right, just as there are numerous reasons a student can get an answer wrong. In my first year in this role, my main focus is on deepening the effectiveness of our mathematics instruction by working with teachers to better understand students’ learning trajectories and ways to promote their growth from one level to the next.
 
Q: How can parents and students benefit from your expertise as Elementary Math Coordinator?
 
A: Parents know their child best and serve as their first and most essential teacher. Homework time can be frustrating depending on the particular subject, the depth of the content or a parent’s level of confidence. Math, in particular, though seems to cause more frustration than other subjects since what we now know about brain science means that the teaching and learning of math today looks very different than when parents were in school. Helping to bridge this gap is one of the key and first benefits for parents and students, which we began with our Math in the 21st Century parent coffee presentation.
 
Q: Why do you specifically like helping children with math?
 
A: Math is a subject that I have always loved. One of my fondest childhood memories involves a game my father would play with me in which passengers would get on and off a fictitious bus as it traveled around Jersey City and I had to determine how many people were on the bus at a specific time. However, when I started teaching math I realized that most of my students’ feelings about math were the complete opposite. I realize that not everyone will have the same passion towards math that I do, but I feel that with the right experiences and guidance it can become a subject that children do not fear or hate. One of my proudest moments was learning that a former student who entered seventh grade lacking confidence in math is now majoring in engineering in college and that she attributed this to me.
 
Q: What do you feel most accomplished about since you started at RSS?
 
A: I feel most accomplished about the faculty’s willingness to embrace my role and how quickly and easily we have started on this journey together. In just two short months, I have worked with teachers in and out of the classroom on analyzing student work, reviewing and exploring mathematical concepts, planning lessons, modeling lessons, co-teaching lessons and reflecting on a lesson after their and/or my observations. The teachers are taking a risk and their willingness to open their classrooms allows grade level teams and the entire division to participate in deep discussions regarding the teaching and learning of math.

Q: How can math teach life lessons?
 
A: There are two key ways that math can teach life lessons beyond finding the best deal on a purchase. First and foremost, hands-on activities and explorations give students opportunities to construct their own ideas and take responsibility for their own learning. This encourages flexibility and the ability to respond to unexpected situations or situations that do not have a single or immediate solution. It also helps develop perseverance in the face of “failure”. Second, collaborating on tasks gives students opportunities to explain and discuss their mathematical thinking. This encourages clear articulation of ideas and the power to discriminate. It also helps students learn how to evaluate their contributions in a socially acceptable manner.

Q: What are your goals and wishes for the future of the Math program as Math Coordinator?
 
A: My goal and wish is for students to leave the Elementary Division with a strong number sense and understanding of the four basic operations that will then expand and develop in middle school. In order to achieve this, I want to continue to strengthen the home-school connection.  We will be having another parent coffee presentation in the spring.  I want to continue to offer opportunities for students to engage with math outside of the assigned 50-minute period each day.  Finally, I want to give teachers the opportunity to engage in situations where they are learners themselves and think through the major ideas of elementary and middle school mathematics and examine how students develop their understanding of those ideas.
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