USC Pen Pals
The USC Pen Pal Program was started in the mid-1990s by Ms. JoAnn Reynolds, a teacher at Hood St. Elementary School who frequently mentored student teachers from USC, and Dr. Richard Hudson, a USC mathematics professor who often taught content courses for pre-service elementary teachers. The program was aimed at making a better connection between the mathematics children learn in elementary school and the mathematics that future teachers study in their undergraduate program. Among other activities, the collaborators paired their students for the weekly exchange of “math letters.”
The Pen Pal program created with that initial PDS Inquiry Grant has grown to impact thousands of elementary students and future teachers.
The current program involves a weekly or biweekly pen pal journal exchange between University of South Carolina students enrolled in Basic Concepts in Elementary Mathematics I&II (enrollment restricted to Early Childhood and Elementary Education majors) and local elementary school students in grades 1-4. In the journals, students use only first names and exchange friendly letters once a week or once every two weeks. Each letter ends with a math problem for the child to solve and asks for a math problem in return.
Each semester’s correspondence ends with a pen pal party at which the students get to meet their pen pals. The USC students create a math skills board game to play and each elementary student is given a T-shirt or canvas bag to commemorate the exchange.
Pam Oates, a third grade teacher at Ben Lippen School, describes the pen pal program as “every teacher’s dream – to have students excited about writing and math!!” All of the elementary teachers report an increased confidence in math ability as well as improvement in problem solving and letter writing skills.