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Cheers help students tackle tough subjects

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By Shaina Stockton, Staff

As curriculums are changing to fit more rigorous testing, Galax teachers continue to seek new and creative ways to make their lessons stick in students’ heads.
Many teachers have found that one great way to get students to memorize their lessons is to use a little rhyme and rhythm.
As an example, Jessica Farina’s sixth grade math class performed for the Galax City School Board several cheers they have been learning to remember math formulas.
Galax Middle School Principal Kristie Legg introduced Farina and her students after sharing a story with the board about what she’s seen out of her recent classes.
“A couple of weeks ago, I was doing a walkthrough of classes, and came into Mr. Darin Byrd’s 7th grade math class. They were in the middle of a lesson, and the class announced that they had a cheer to remember what they were learning,” she said.
The students got up and demonstrated the cheer together. “They knew the cheer, and they knew the material,” said Legg.
She made her way out of the room and into Shelia Ramey’s Life Science class, where they were going over the scientific process. “She told the class, ‘I know you know a cheer for this,’ and they got up and did it. I was so excited,” she said.
Farina explained to the board the reasons behind her teaching method. “When I first started teaching math, I knew that it wasn’t a favorite subject. I knew that what I taught them on day one might not stay with them until day 50 or day 75,” she said. “I made it my goal to make math more memorable for the students.”
For SOL preparation, Farina offered her students hands-on activities and games, encouraging group work and competition to make the lessons more memorable. To help memorize formulas, she designed several math cheers for them to perform out loud during review, and in their heads during tests. “When they do chapter tests, you see them doing the cheers in their heads,” she said. “It gives them so much confidence, and when it’s time for SOLs, they will have enough confidence to pass them.”
One by one, students from her class came up to present some of the projects they had done during their recent semester. One student held up a folded piece of paper that was designed to help them learn about quadrant planes. The drawing of the quadrants on the paper helps the students visualize and map out the problem to find the solution.
The students then grouped together in front of the school board to perform some of the cheers they had learned in Farina’s class.
“X, horizontal, x, horizontal, positive, negative, positive, negative,” they chanted, stretching their arms in the appropriate directions.
Seventh grade students who had learned these cheers in their previous grade year also made an appearance at the meeting to perform the cheers they still remember and still use in their classes today. “Ms. Farina makes [math] fun... she makes everything stick in your head through the dances and cheers. Without her, it would be boring,” said one student.
“They all get A’s,” Farina laughed.
To conclude the presentation, the students led the board and all of the visitors in one final cheer about integers. “Positive whole number, negative whole number — never a decimal, never a fraction,” the group repeated.

In other action, the board:
• received several awards from the Virginia School Boards Association Academy. School Board Chairman Ray Kohl received the VSBA Awards of Distinction, as did Helen Kyle. Stewart Merdian received the VSBA Award of Achievement.

• approved an overnight trip for the golf team to participate in the state tournament.

• approved funding for a co-ed swim team for Galax High School beginning with the 2014-2015 school year. The board debated for several minutes about approving the team sooner, but decided to take extra time to see if the school system could also offer similar opportunities for younger students.

• accepted a first reading of the VSBA policy manual updates