The evidence is clear that students whose families are engaged in their education usually do better in class. Building upon that foundation, New Discoveries Montessori Academy scheduled a series of six Family Curriculum Nights this school year.

The fourth, which took place Thursday, focused on math and science curriculum and gave families several ideas for activities they can do together at home to improve the students’ school performance.

But they went home with more. They went home with the tools to use in those activities, such as a AL Abacus, an abacus developed by rural Hutchinson resident Dr. Joan A. Cotter, a pioneer here in Montessori preschool education, and a trained electrical engineer with a doctorate in mathematics education and early childhood.

Cotter, founder of Activities for Learning Inc. and author of “Math Card Game: Over 300 Games for Learning and Enjoying Math,” attended New Discoveries’ session. The abacus she developed uses beads in two colors grouped in sets of five that students readily master.

“A major problem (in mathematics education) is we think counting is the basis of mathematics,” she said. “We should be recognizing quantities by grouping in fives and tens.”

Parents were able to purchase a yellow box — the Math Card Box. An orientation session taught them, through a video, how to use the activities inside the box at home with their child. At the same time, the children were in a session making the abacus used in many of the math activities.

Additional sessions taught other math activities, as well as science topics, such as how the electricity stored in batteries can light a flashlight bulb, how to make a pinwheel and how wind energy can be harnessed by windmills, and how levers can be used to move items too heavy to move by normal lifting. 

Jill Bierbaum, a New Discoveries Parent-Teacher Organization volunteer who helped organize Thursday’s event, said the curriculum nights will wrap up with with a Literacy Night April 4 and Celebration Night on May 23.

“We are going to celebrate our year and the achievements the kids have done,” Bierbaum said. “We want to build this each year.”

Thursday’s event, which also incorporated a book fair, attracted more than 115 New Discoveries parents and children. Most dined together at the start of the evening.