Teaching middle school students to understand and apply math practices, MathPOWER supports its students’ success in math by fostering perseverance and critical thinking and solidifying their understanding of core math concepts.
“Our mission is to promote advanced mathematics in urban schools,” says Emily Duncan, Director of Programs at MathPOWER. “We have seen that when students struggle with foundational skills like basic operations with rational numbers, percents, decimals, and fractions, they are unable to do higher level math even if they understand the concepts.”
During the school year, MathPOWER runs Math*STARS, an afterschool program at the Timitly Middle School. The program offers students an hour of homework help with volunteer tutor-mentors from Northeastern University and an hour of hands-on math activities that stress math fundamentals and engagement with math practices.
“Our curriculum is largely based on students being able to use the math practices to help them think like mathematicians,” says Duncan. “The math practices are all about self-monitoring, being precise, recognizing patterns, and using the right tools.”
In Math*STARS, students participate in activities like geometric scavenger hunts, explorations of the origins of mathematical symbols and the order of operations, and financial literacy projects. These activities strengthen students’ facility in fundamental math concepts while engaging them in math practices like reasoning abstractly and quantitatively, attending to precision, recognizing and using structure, and modeling with mathematics. Through using these math practices, Math*STARS students develop tactics to address problems systematically, building their confidence and ability to persevere through complex problems.
“The math practices are really habits of mind and thinking skills,” says Duncan. “They can help students figure math out if they don’t understand it when they first look at it. One problem we see often with our students is that they really do know the math deep down, but they shut down because it’s hard. We are seeing that social-emotional skills and math practices allow students to get in control and have confidence that they can be successful.”
In order to further develop student confidence in math, MathPOWER focuses on building strong student-to-student and student-to-staff relationships within its programs. Strong relationships allow students to feel comfortable tackling new problems, grappling with content, and explaining their reasoning to their tutor-mentors and their peers, keys to their growth in math.
“We run closing activities where students give each other shout-outs based on whether or not they displayed a social-emotional skill or a math practice,” says Duncan. “I look forward to seeing these relationships grow. That’s really how we get the students to trust us, take risks, and show their vulnerability in math, which is how we get to the best learning.”
By promoting fluency in math fundamentals and math practices, fostering perseverance and critical thinking, and providing a supportive learning environment, MathPOWER is able to significantly impact its students’ success in math during the school day.