Academy makes algebra fun

Posted by Keith Severson on Mar 18, 2015

Posted: Thursday, Jan 6th, 2011

BY: TODD GUILD Courtesy of Todd Guild Register-Pajaronian, Watsonville, CA

Graniterock assistant general counsel Kevin Jeffery helps Rolling Hills Middle School student Jackie Quintana work through a math problem. (Photos by Todd Guild)

In a large conference room at Graniterock’s headquarters in Watsonville, 54 Rolling Hills Middle School students are voluntarily spending a week of their winter break studying algebra — and to the casual observer, they’re having fun. 

Taught by a team of mathematics professors and students from Cal State Monterey Bay, the Algebra Academy give the students six hours per day of math instruction in what organizers hope is a relaxed atmosphere without the threat of quizzes looming over their heads.

“You learn a lot of math, that’s for sure,” said Jackie Quintana, 13. “The professors and teachers help you a lot.” 

CSUMB mathematics department chairman Hongde Hu, Ph.D., said he designed the program to bring students up to speed with standards recently adapted by the California Department of Education that mandate preparation in algebra. 

More importantly, he said, he wants the students to learn through hands-on activities that make the math relevant to their lives.

These activities included figuring out their odds of winning the California State Lottery, and determining why California vehicle license numbers need three letters. 

“The idea is to have students be excited and get their interest in math, not just pass tests,” Hu said.

 Open to all eighth-graders who are currently taking pre-algebra or algebra, the program was modeled after the math classes taken by CSUMB students who need extra help.

Graniterock CEO Bruce Woolpert, who spearheaded the academy, said he sat in on one of Hu’s remedial math classes at CSUMB and was immediately impressed by his teaching style, which stressed short sessions of theory followed by long practice sessions in which the students put the lessons to use with the help of the professors.

“You end the day with success,” Woolpert said. “They know every minute if they are learning something.”

Woolpert said that as many as 90 percent of high school graduates entering Cabrillo College require some form of remedial math, and that many who enter the CSU system are similarly lacking in math skills.

Students who are unable to pass a proficiency test after taking remedial courses are often kicked out of school, Woolpert said.

“When math isn’t learned in K-12, the problem gets passed on everywhere,” Woolpert said. “That cycle needs to be fixed at the junior high level.”

Graniterock assistant general counsel Kevin Jeffery, who also helped launch the program, said the company has worked with Rolling Hills Middle School for four years, sending tutors from the company to help with English, art, math and science, as well as hosting events such as awards ceremonies for students who get good grades, Jeffery said.

“We’re always looking for opportunities to support the community,” he said. “We put a special emphasis on education, and to give these kids an opportunity to enhance their education seems like a natural thing for us.”

The program will culminate on Friday, when the students will take a tour of CSUMB to get a taste of college life, Hu said.

Whatever the students choose to do, Hu said CSUMB will track the students after they graduate from high school to see whether they go to college, and what they choose as their major.

Hu said he has also taught similar programs at high schools in the Monterey Bay area, but this was the first time he had worked with junior high students.

CSUMB math major Karen Martinez, 19, who came to help tutor the students, said she appreciates the challenge of adapting her instruction to the different learning styles of the students. 

“It makes me feel good that I can do something to help other people,” she said. “It’s exciting to see these students learning.”

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