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Mathworks Fellows benefit undergraduates, middle school students

Posted by Jayme Blaschke
University News Service
October 11, 2012

This semester, 13 undergraduate Mathworks Fellows at Texas State University-San Marcos are devoting a total of 40 hours per week in middle school math classes, gaining early classroom experiences while at the same time providing a boost to the young students with whom they interact.

These Mathworks Fellows are part of the larger Mathworks Algebra Program (MAP) in progress at Miller Middle School in San Marcos that involves numerous layers of support. MAP is a full-scale implementation of the Mathworks curriculum, a series of math textbooks authored by Texas State math professors. MAP also includes weekly teacher planning meetings and family math nights. The ultimate goal of the program is to give all young students a solid foundation in algebra before they enter high school, thus giving them access to higher-level math courses.

Texas State junior Aubrey Borges works as a Mathworks Fellow in 8th grade math classes at Miller. A math major with a minor in secondary education, she plans to be certified to teach 8th-12th math. The early classroom experience she's gained at Miller has already been beneficial to her future career, as she’s been able to work in a classroom before her senior semester of student-teaching.

"I chose to join the Mathworks Fellows program to get in some good classroom experience before becoming a teacher myself," Borges said. "I was very interested in what Mathworks was trying to accomplish. After a couple weeks in the program, I am very glad I joined.

"Being in the classroom has taught me a lot about teaching. I have learned that in mathematics classes, children learn differently," she said. "One student may understand the concept right away while another student may need a different explanation or to be taught in a different way, such as visually."

Of the participating undergraduates, more than 90 percent are majoring in math or interdisciplinary studies and will be certified to teach. The undergrads play a significant role as mentors, teachers, and role models. Eight weeks into the semester, the Mathworks Fellows have already brought about positive changes among the middle school students.

"My Math 7 class that my Mathworks Fellow helps in outperformed my other math 7 class by 30 percent on their last test," said Casey Ellis, a 7th grade math teacher at Miller. "Having an extra person to help with small groups so that the students who aren't understanding (the material) may get one-on-one help has decreased the need for retesting, decreased behavior issues, and has increased learning."

Studies have shown that the college enrollment rate for first-generation students who had taken any higher-level math courses is almost double the rate compared to those who had not: a striking 64 to 34 percent. In addition, students who do not complete algebra II in high school are far more likely to require developmental math courses in college: 89 percent compared to only 31 percent for those who did complete algebra II. These development math courses add on to tuition costs and time required to graduate - significant burdens on students. MAP provides pathways for young students to enroll and succeed in higher-level math classes, thereby increasing college enrollment and graduation rates.

Sophomore Rachel Jordan, an interdisciplinary studies (education) major with a focus 4th-8th grades, also signed up to be a Fellow to gain classroom experience.

"The Mathworks curriculum has very innovative ways to help students understand the concepts being taught," Jordan said. "It’s nice to know the whys of mathematics and not just how to solve for the answers."

The Mathworks Algebra Program is a partnership between Mathworks at Texas State, San Marcos CISD, the KDK-Harman Foundation, and the Sid W. Richardson Foundation.

About Mathworks

Mathworks is a center for mathematics education at Texas State University-San Marcos with core programs of summer math camps, teacher training and curriculum development. The Mathworks curriculum, Math Explorations, is a series of textbooks designed to give young students a solid foundation in algebra. For more information about Mathworks, see www.txstate.edu/mathworks.