While teaching third grade, Tapp Hancock (Class of 1980) grew tired of half of her students not being able to master basic mathematics. “I knew there had to be a better way,” says Tapp, who has taught in California elementary schools for the last twenty years. “Kids want to succeed, but educators need to teach them according to their appropriate learning style and give them the right tools to achieve.”
Guided by the old adage, ‘if you want something done right, do it yourself,’ Tapp set out to find a better way. The program she eventually created, was a hit with her students. It earned approval from the State of California as a curriculum supplement and has spread to seventeen California school districts, homes schools in seventeen states and some 2nd through 6th grades in Singapore, Australia, the Netherlands, Philippines, Bahamas and England.
Han-5 incorporates number puppets, Boogie Boards of hand formations and stories that engage the student’s visual, kinesthetic, and auditory senses. It enables students to count, multiply, and divide systematically. “If a student is given a linear number pattern that shows how math facts are constructed, they can start to speak the language and then move on to meaningful, conceptual understandings of it,” Tapp says. “When we learn how to read for comprehension, we first learn how to speak the words. Why not apply this same logic to math problems?”
For her innovative and now patented Han-5 program, Tapp was awarded the 2006 Presidential Award of Excellence, the nation’s highest honor for K-12 teachers of mathematics and science. The award, administered for the White House by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and presented to elementary and secondary teachers in alternate years, recognizes a premier group of highly qualified teachers who have both deep content knowledge of the subjects they teach and the ability to motivate and enable students to be successful.
Tapp and other nominees were vetted for the Presidential Award by a state-level committee comprised of prominent mathematicians, scientists, math and science educators, and past award recipients. At the national level, the NSF convened its own committee to review the state finalists and recommend to the President of the United States a single finalist in each category (mathematics or science) for each state or jurisdiction.
Tiffany Tosti, who uses Han-5 in her third grade class at Orangewood Elementary in Bakersfield, California, affirms the important difference that Tapp’s program made for her students. “All different types of learners can benefit from this program,” she said. “The quirky, silly stories and number patterns made multiplication fun. My kinesthetic learners loved moving the number pieces around, my auditory learners loved the stories, and my visual learners loved using my posters and their own hand to help visualize a number pattern. A student with a an IQ of 70 who read at a kindergarten level left third grade knowing 90% of his multiplication and division facts. His self-esteem grew tremendously as well.”