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Famous children's author visits Riverside

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Second graders Blake Burnley, 7, center, and Kirk Siegele, 8, react to completing a Kakooma math puzzle with their classmates at Riverside Elementary School in Suwanee Wednesday. Children's author Greg Tang who also created the Kakooma math games taught the students how to see numbers differently during the math lesson.

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Second graders Blake Burnley, 7, center, and Kirk Siegele, 8, react to completing a Kakooma math puzzle with their classmates at Riverside Elementary School in Suwanee Wednesday. Children's author Greg Tang who also created the Kakooma math games taught the students how to see numbers differently during the math lesson.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Children's author Greg Tang teaches hundreds of second graders at Riverside Elementary School a math lesson in Suwanee Wednesday.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Children's author Greg Tang signs a copy of his book The Grapes of Math for fourth grade students Riley Brownfield, 10, and Grace Connelly, 9, at Riverside Elementary School in Suwanee Wednesday.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Second graders at Riverside Elementary School Isabella Park, 7, center, tries to gain the attention of children's author Greg Tang who proposed a question during a math lesson in Suwanee Wednesday. Park sits besides her classmates Allison Park, 7, left, and Blake Burnley, 7.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Children's author Greg Tang of Cambridge, Mass., shares how to see numbers differently without counting on their fingers while teaching students a math lesson at Riverside Elementary School in Suwanee Wednesday. Tang taught four different lessons broken up by grades.

SUWANEE -- With a glossy children's workbook and a permanent marker in hand, Cindy Duttenhofer walked toward Greg Tang, all nerves.

Duttenhofer, a Riverside elementary teacher, likened it to meeting a celebrity.

The educator wasn't alone in her mania for the man at the podium inside Riverside Elementary's gymnasium. During a special assembly for the students, Tang -- a world renowned children's book author -- taught local kids some tips and tricks to adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing numbers.

He asked students to try "seeing numbers in the right ways."

As an example, he showed them the following math problem: 4 X 65 = ?

Tang said while many may try to do "skip counting," in their heads -- adding the number 65 together four times -- a much easier method involves adding 65 + 65 and doubling the answer.

"130 + 130 is easier to work with," Tang said.

Tang said his children's books teach similar methods for understanding math. Among his titles: "The Grapes of Math," "Math for all Seasons," "The Best of Times," "Math Appeal," "Math-terpieces," "Math Fables," "Math Potatoes," and most recently, "Math Fables Too."

Prior to developing his teaching techniques, Tang was an entrepreneur, having launched two successful companies. Through tutoring in his daughter's classroom, he felt inspired to develop the new approach to teaching math, which involves breaking numbers apart using puzzles and games.

Riverside teacher Ginger Cox said Tang's ability to engage the kids is at the heart of his success.

"You can hear the excitement in here," Cox said, gesturing toward a crowd of hundreds of students -- some leaping to their feet and laughing as they listened to Tang talk. "He knows how to hook their interest. It's such a great opportunity to have him here at our school. I love math so much, so this is really amazing for me right now."

It was Elizabeth Baillie, culture and arts director with the school's PTA, that contacted Tang. "We told him we'd be interested in having him here, and he was very responsive," Baillie said. "We're so glad to have him here."

Assistant Principal Keith Oldknow said the PTA indeed played a big part in getting the numbers guru to visit.

"It ended up working out pretty well," Oldknow said. "And this is great for these kids. It helps them get a deeper understanding of what they've already learned in the classroom. It's about more than just being able to add."

Students like Brendan Colavecchio, Alexis Lee and CJ Clayton -- all six years old -- concurred that Tang's visit was a fruitful one.

"We did a lot of counting by ones, a lot of counting by fives and a lot of counting by 10," Colavecchio said. The other children nodded, echoing the young man's remarks.

Their first grade teacher, Holly Wall, said the children enjoyed it because "he makes it fun ... they didn't have to sit there and work out math on a piece of paper. They were able to have a good time, and they can learn a lot when they're having fun. I think (Tang) is very innovative."

A Harvard and New York University graduate, Tang said that "while most people are bad at math, it doesn't mean they can't learn new ways to approach it."

Duttenhofer, for one, is a believer. She beamed with pride Wednesday with her freshly-inked autograph from the scholastic celebrity.