by Alyssa McNamara, AmeriCorps Math Scholar Coach
“I’m just not a math person.”
“I’m just not good at math.”
Many of us have heard friends, family members, and students utter this phrase. As a Math Scholar Coach for the Schuler Scholar Program, it is my goal to show my Scholars that anyone is capable of learning math. Each of the three main components of our math program serves our goal of helping all Scholars learn math to their potential.
Remediation of Previous Math
Schuler uses an online learning program, ALEKS (http://www.aleks.com/), which uses adaptive questioning to determine a student’s mastery level at a specific level of math. We use ALEKS to assess every incoming Scholar’s understanding of middle school math and determine which topics need review and development. Scholars then work in the program and with Scholar Coaches to build their understanding of these topics. During the summer, Scholars work to finish the course, and they take periodic assessments to ensure that they understand the material. Beyond middle school math, ALEKS is also used to prepare students for their next level in math.
Support in Current Math Classes
I spend the majority of my day helping students with the material in their current math classes. In addition to tutoring them on topics from their coursework, I help them create study plans and learn study techniques. In addition to developing a study schedule they can use outside of the classroom, I always encourage Scholars to meet with their math teachers and develop a positive relationship with them.
Patterns of Mathematical Thought
We stress the idea of patterns in all areas of the math program, but in Math STEP (an after-school program) we have an opportunity to explore this idea further. Each grade has between two and four math STEPs a year focused on solving creative math problems.
For one of the problems I present in the freshman math STEP, I draw a 4 x 4 square on the board. I then ask them to figure out how many squares are on the board (hint: it’s more than 16!). This kind of problem can be solved in many ways, and it is a good way of demonstrating that math is about the solution, not the answer.
In addition to ALEKS, one-on-one tutoring, and STEP, our program is also focused on creating a positive culture surrounding math. This positive culture is critical to helping Scholars become comfortable with seeking help. In my two years as a Math Scholar Coach, I have seen the Scholars at Highland Park High School make huge improvements in their attitudes about math and their study habits. The programming is still relatively new, and we are constantly thinking of new ways to engage and challenge Scholars in math.