Frequently Asked Questions

What is Semple Math?

Semple Math is a basic skills mathematics program for beginning, high risk, and/or remedial students of all ages. It is designed to accommodate the many needs of the beginning and math-disabled learner.

How does Semple Math differ from other beginning math programs?

The major difference between Semple Math and other math programs is that along with teaching basic mathematical skills and concepts Semple Math also teaches the student how to learn the material. The pupil is taught how to store the new abstract information in memory so that retrieval is accurate and efficient.

Who can use Semple Math?

Semple Math can be used successfully by many different types of learners from the first grade beginner to the older remedial student and math-disabled adult. Any student who has not yet mastered the basic facts or has difficulty grasping mathematical concepts is a candidate for Semple Math.

Do you use the same materials for all ages?

Yes, with some modification, which is explained in the Teachers' Manual. I have tried to design the workbook pages so that students of all ages will feel comfortable using them. Explain to your older students that most of the drawings are "mnemonics"; or clues that will help them remember. Pages which have coloring or cut and paste activities may be eliminated by adolescents and adults but the purpose of these worksheets should be explained to older learners. Often, when the purpose is revealed, older students are willing to complete the worksheets. Many of the learning center activities are designed with the young student in mind. You, the teacher, will have to judge which ones are appropriate for your older students.

How do you place students in the program? IS there a placement test?

All students, regardless of age, begin at the beginning. You will be teaching your students in a different way. The skills, procedures and mnemonics taught early in the program will be used again and again for learning higher level skills. The older and/or mildly disabled learner will progress more quickly than his younger and/or more severely disabled counterpart but will follow the same path.

How can Semple Math be adapted for different types of learners in different age groups?

The key to success in Semple Math is the method used to teach each skill. But also vital to success in this or any program is your approach as a teacher. And, of course, your approach will be different for different types of students. Included in the following list are suggestions for handling a few major categories of learners:

• The Beginning Math Student. Semple Math has been used successfully as a beginning (basal) math program in many kindergarten and first grade classrooms. The concrete approach to teaching skills and concepts allows disabled students to achieve and problem free students to excel. Mastery of skills is the same for both types of pupils. The difference between the two lies in the amount of time it takes each group to achieve that mastery. Approach your kindergarten and first grade students with a sense of fun and lots of enthusiasm. They will love the mnemonics used in Semple Math and the success that comes from using them. With beginners, simply follow the manual. The lessons, activities, games and workbook pages have been designed with these students in mind. The independent activities described in each lesson should allow ample time for you to give individual attention to those who need it.

• The High-risk First Grader or Transitional Student. This is the student who may reverse numerals and have difficulty remembering their shapes. He or she may have trouble naming numbers or counting with one-to-one correspondence. His or her problems may be compounded by a short attention span or behavior disorder. Semple Math is designed to prevent these and other problems form interfering with successful learning. The high-risk first grader will need extra time to achieve mastery but achieve he will. Let this student progress at his own speed.

• The Second or Third Grade Remedial Student. This student has somehow managed to make it through kindergarten and first grade mathematics but not without a great deal of effort. He continues to show subtle signs of difficulty with underlying skills. His papers are messy. Reversals are evident. He retrieves the answers to most addition facts by counting on his fingers. He tends to ignore plus and minus signs. He is often confused and sometimes overwhelmed by the abstract language of mathematics. These and other problems can be resolved for the 2nd or 3rd grade student with Semple Math. The teaching strategies and reinforcement activities will help this student to compensate for his particular inefficiencies. He or she will have a slightly faster learning rate than the kindergarten or first grade pupil.

• The Fourth or Fifth Grade Remedial Student. Like the drowning man thrashing about trying to keep his head above water this student knows he is doomed but continues the fight to stay afloat. He counts quickly and often secretively on his fingers to add and subtract. He or she has learned to multiply 8 x 7 by drawing 8 rows with 7 dots in each row and then counting the dots. This student not only has trouble with basic skills but continues to show signs of inefficiencies in the underlying skills of attention and memory, direction and space, organization, sequencing and/or language. He is more difficult to work with than his younger counterpart because he has learned some very productive compensating techniques. Chances are he will be resistant to change. But change he must if he is going to increase his mathematical ability. Semple Math provides an appropriate alternative program for this type of student. Turn on your enthusiasm and tell your pupils that you have found a math program that will allow them to succeed and have lots of fun at the same time. Explain that they will be learning clues for remembering answers. Some of the clues will be crazy and silly. Tell your students that the reason the clues are a bit ridiculous is that crazy, silly things are easier to remember than ordinary things. Encourage this age group to laugh at the clues as you discuss with them how the clues work. For example, you might say to your 4th and 5th graders, "It is silly, I know, to think of numerals as having tails. But, picturing the tail makes it much easier to write numerals in a straight column." (See Lesson 18.) After the initial resistance students in this age group become very enthusiastic. They love to discuss how the clues work and embellish upon them.

You may be able to move through the first 14 lessons rather quickly with this group. Be sure to teach all of the clues. Remind your students that even though they may already know some of these skills, they are learning clues which will help them to remember the skills quickly.

• The Middle School Remedial Student. This student is an expert finger counter. He counts to add, counts to subtract, counts to multiply and counts to divide. He has become so good at counting that he can sometimes fool us (and himself) into thinking he knows the basic facts. When we ask, "How much are 8 and 6, Johnny?" he will often repeat the question, roll his eyes toward the ceiling, hesitate and then answer, "Fourteen." He may deny having to count on his fingers and defend his approach to retrieving the answer by stating, "I just have to think about it for a couple of seconds." Johnny fools us, too, by what we call "splinter skills." He knows just enough to make us think he knows more. For example, because he is able to complete a page of 4-digit column addition problems accurately, we may be tricked into believing that he knows his facts. Or we may be lulled into believing that he does not have to know the facts. Mastery of math facts is to mathematics what decoding of words is to reading. Our goal in teaching reading is automation of the decoding process so that the student will be free to concentrate on the meaning involved. If the student is struggling to decode every word, letter by letter, we cannot expect him to concentrate on the main idea of the story. We must get him to automate that decoding process first before we can expect higher level comprehension to evolve.

The same is true with mathematics. Committing the basic facts to memory is as vital to comprehension of mathematical concepts as automating the decoding process is to reading comprehension. These "basic facts" in both reading and mathematics must be committed to memory before a more global understanding of the concepts involved can develop.

Prepare yourself for the older learner by reading the first few lessons ahead of time. Older students can usually handle the first 14 lessons in a week's time of less. As you progress with them through the program the lessons become more complex and your students will move at a slower pace and accomplish one lesson at a time. But in the beginning, give them as much as they can manage successfully. Keep in mind that the same underlying problems with attention, memory, direction and space, organization, sequence and language that plague younger students also plague the older learner. For this reason you should be careful to teach every clue along the way, especially in the first 14 lessons. The mnemonic clues in these lessons will begin to build a storage system in memory in which more complex skills and concepts will be filed.

Joke with your students about how silly some of the mnemonics are. Explain to them how we have discovered through research that unusual things are easier to remember than ordinary things. Cite an example. Your students may not remember what you wore to school yesterday. But, if you were to show up in a clown costume they would certainly remember that! You will need to encourage, reassure, reward and cajole the older student. As he begins to experience genuine success in the program his motivation will come from the success itself.

• The Special Needs Student. This student at any age will usually require some one-to-one tutoring. In a self-contained setting try to schedule a minimum of 10 minutes per day of individual tutoring for each student. Use the independent activities and workbook pages to keep the other students productively occupied while you tutor. In a Resource Room setting where you work with small groups or individuals save the workbook pages for your students to do as independent work in their regular classrooms. Approach your special needs students with the same enthusiasm and positive attitude you use with other students. They, too, can be successful and have fun learning in Semple Math.

• The Math-disabled Adult. The adult with math disabilities has still not committed the basic facts to memory. He may continue to display symptoms of faulty underlying skills by reversing and transposing numerals when he is nervous or tired, forgetting how to multiply or divide, failing to grasp the concept of place value, etc. He has probably learned to compensate for not knowing addition and subtraction facts by learning to count with extreme efficiency on his fingers. He may even tell you, "I can add and subtract ok, but I cannot learn the times tables."

Your adult student will have to learn that there is much more to learning addition than learning addition facts. The whole concept of base ten must evolve if the basic facts are to have meaning and mathematical concepts are to be developed and understood. As you work with your student in the program you will see how the roots are being formed for later development of other more advanced skills. Point this out to your adult learner. You must convince him or her that memorization of facts is not enough. A deeper understanding of all aspects of base 10 must be developed.

Special Problems of Older Students: The adolescent or adult learner who still requires instruction in basic skills is suffering from years of failure, frustration, embarrassment, shame and guilt. This student has grown angry and may refuse to try, or has become so discouraged that he is unable to try. The anger and discouragement, of course, generate more failure, frustration, embarrassment, shame and guilt. The cycle of failure gains momentum with the years. Each person copes with failure in his or her own way. Some individuals withdraw and become d epressed. Others may turn to drugs or alcohol. A few strike back and become a menace to society. Many go through life angry and bitter or depressed and ashamed.

However different individual coping strategies may be, they all stem from a common underlying characteristic - a damaged self-image. These adolescent and adult students hurt deeply. The coping strategies help to ease the pain.

When working with the older learner your approach should be one filled with compassion and respect. Your student feels stupid, inadequate and afraid. Your job is to convince him that he is none of these.

I usually begin the adult student with a discussion, in terms he can understand, of learning disabilities in general and his problems in particular. I try to get my students to open up and share a few of their experiences with me. My goal is to establish trust. I want my students to feel secure in the knowledge that I consider them intelligent, capable people - regardless of how many times they have failed math.

Along with the need for establishing trust the older student also has a very real need for placing blame. If he is not stupid, then why has he failed? This question must be answered in order to ride the student of shame and guilt. Blaming former teachers, school systems, parents, programs, absenteeism, a need for glasses, divorce, death, etc. only serves to increase the student's anger and frustration. To avoid this situation, I tell my students a little bit about the research that has gone on over the past twenty years concerning how the human brain processes information. I share with my pupils the fact that when they were in elementary school we simply did not know how to teach them. We did not have the knowledge. Many, many students failed and we did not know why. Years of research have taught us that different people process information in different ways and, therefore, must be taught in different ways. I assure my students that Semple Math honors these differences. I try to convince my students that this time they will not be disappointed. They will learn.

As your students experience genuine success, frustration and anger will be replaced by pride and confidence in their work. Your pupils will begin to know the joy of learning. The change in behaviors will bring about a change in self-esteem. Your students will feel good about themselves.

How are lessons organized and presented?

All lessons follow the same organizational structure. The format is explained below.
Objective: Each lesson includes at least one objective written in behavioral terms.
Materials: Materials needed for each lesson are listed or pictured. Some materials have been designed especially for Semple Math and can be purchased through Semple Math, Inc. Other materials may be teacher-made or purchased elsewhere. Specific directions are given for all teacher-made materials. When materials appear for the first time, illustrations are provided.
Note to Teacher: When appropriate, additional information is provided to make the teacher's job easier and more effective.
Teaching Activity: Directives for each lesson are detailed and explicit. Many lessons include the actual dialog you are to use with your students. The vocabulary in each dialog or set of instructions is specific. Do not substitute other words. These concrete words have been especially chosen because they have been experienced by the student and, thus, can be pictured. The imaging, or picture forming, helps to involve the student experientially in the learning process. This kinesthetic involvement provides an association between the abstract concept and a concrete experience which allows the child or adult to internalize the mathematical concepts being taught.
Special Problems: In this section of the lesson I will discuss severe learning problems that I have encountered in some of my students and offer special teaching strategies for overcoming these problems.
For the Older Disabled Student: A separate section in most of the lessons is devoted to the older disabled student. Teaching techniques for his specific learning problems are discussed and described.
Games and Learning Center Activities : Small and large group as well as individual, independent and teacher-directed games and activities are suggested in each lesson. The games and activities are designed to involve visual, auditory, tactile and kinesthetic modalities and reinforce skills being taught. Directions are provided for making the materials. Many learning center activities are also suggested. The older student many not require the reinforcement provided by these materials. You, the teacher, may judge your student's needs.
Review and Reinforcement: The Semple Math Workbooks are an essential part of the Program. They provide the necessary reinforcement of skills and concepts taught in each lesson and review of skills and concepts learned in previous lessons. Lessons are correlated to specific workbook pages. Young and/or disabled students should complete every worksheet. The older student may eliminate some of the beginning workbook pages and coloring or cut and paste activities. However, you should discuss each page with your older student. He or she should understand the purpose of the reinforcement or review page. If your older student wants to, or is willing to, complete all pages, encourage him to do so. Often, when the older student understands the rationale behind an activity he finds the "babyish" worksheet less offensive.
Rationale: Many lessons are followed by a "Rationale." In this section I try to give the professional teacher the learning theory behind the method employed for teaching a particular skill or concept. Like the older learner, we teachers object less to doing something when we know why we are doing it.

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