It started with a photo Casey Conger saw on Twitter in October. A school in California marked a set of stairs with vocabulary words for students to see more often.
Eager to make the most of her own students’ transition time, the Creeds Elementary School principal started thinking about the two stairwells in her school.
“Multiplication fluency is always a difficult thing because when you get into higher math, if you are spending so much time trying to figure out multiplication, you lose the steps. So I started thinking about how to build that fluency,” Conger explained.
“We have a unique situation. We have stairs and a lot of elementary schools do not. When you put a step with a number, it just builds muscle memory.”
The former physical education teacher added, “You can take the girl out of the gym, but you can’t take the gym out of the girl.”
With help from Creeds office manager Debbie Brooks and adhesive vinyl scraps donated by a local print shop, the school’s stairwells were transformed to feature two multiplication facts on each step.
“Here are threes, fours, sixes and sevens,” said Conger running up one stairwell, “and on the other stairs are eights, nines, elevens and twelves.”
There are no steps for multiplication fact sets for ones, twos, fives and tens.
“They are easy,” Conger explained. “Our kids know those.”
Some math facts may be easy but Conger admitted the summer stairwell project did pose challenges.
“The hardest part was that we had to do it by eye to make sure it was straight,” she said. “Debbie stood here and gave direction. So, we would tape halfway and look, and then tape the other half. I couldn’t walk for three days because my knees were hurting and bruised.”
Conger estimated it took about three days to measure the steps, cut the stickers with the school’s Ellison machine and place them on 50 steps.
Her excitement about completing the painstaking project is no match for the enthusiasm about her calculations of how the stairs will support learning.
“We try to capitalize on every instructional minute we have,” began Conger, “and here’s what I figure — our kids go up and down the stairs 8-10 times a day. They go up the stairs when they get here. They go downstairs for PE and back up. They go down for lunch and back up. They go down for art, music and the library, and they go back up,” she listed.
“If you take it one minute a piece, which is a small estimate, going up and down the steps, that adds up to 30 hours of instructional time. That’s just using the stairs!” she exclaimed.
“30 HOURS!” she repeated for emphasis.
At the school for a summer professional learning class, fifth-grade math teacher David Wiggins walked by and repeated multiplication facts as he stepped.
“Did you see him?” asked Conger. “He was repeating the facts!”
“Sometimes I don’t know my sixes,” Wiggins said with a smile from the second floor.
Conger is eager to show the stairwell featuring higher numbers, the steps her fourth and fifth graders will use most.
“Let’s go check out the other stairs because they look way more impressive because of the three-digit numbers,” encouraged Conger.
She can barely contain her excitement as she runs to the flight of stairs with her favorites – elevens and twelves.
“Up here, this one to me looks the coolest!” she said pointing to the answer for 11 times 12.
The numbers aren’t permanent, Conger stressed. “Everything can come off. They’re just stickers on rubber steps.”
It makes one wonder what new material could replace multiplication facts for next school year.
“30 hours of extra instructional time going up and down steps in a school year,” Conger said again looking at the stairwell, eager for students to arrive Sept. 6 and take their first steps.Tell your friends! Follow us!