Field trip: Mathnasium gives kids a summer math workout

Camp: Mathnasium
Where: West Chester, Ohio
Grades: 1st - 12th

School won’t be back in session for a couple weeks, but some students are getting a mental workout at Mathnasium. The learning center in West Chester - one of three in Cincinnati - is open to students hoping to enrich their math skills through a summer program.

“The program is doing very well. This has been our biggest summer yet,” said Logan Reames, director of the West Chester Mathnasium.

Mathnasium began in 2002 in Westwood, Calif. After spending years developing the Mathnasium Method, Larry Martinek introduced his curriculum at Peter Markovitz’ and David Ullendorff’s first math learning center.

Nearly 500 Mathnasium centers now exist worldwide. A Mathnasium learning center opened in Blue Ash about four years ago. Two more centers opened about a year ago, one in West Chester, the other in Mason.

A customized learning plan
Whether a student is struggling with math class or wants to prepare for future math courses, Mathnasium staff will  create a customized learning plan. Before students begin lessons, they take an assessment that is used to create customized curriculum for the student.

“Every single topic is based on the student,” Reames said.

Students can drop in at the center for a lesson any time during operating hours as Mathnasium instructors are on hand to work with students at their convenience.

During the school year, instructors follow a 50/50 model - 50 percent of the time is devoted to the student’s custom lesson plan, and 50 percent is devoted to homework. In summer months, students focus solely on their customized curriculum. They are assessed every six to eight weeks to gauge progress.

Lessons in math and confidence
Mathnasium lesson topics include every mathematical concept for students in first through 12th grade, including multiplication, fractions, algebra and pre-calculus.

Jamie Huynh, 12, of Liberty Township, has been taking Mathnasium lessons this summer to help prepare for an advanced math class in the coming school year.

“I have learned a lot more skills and improved on algebra, and I have learned how to make it easier for myself doing ratios and proportions,” she said.

One of the core lessons at Mathnasium is number sense, which helps students see easier ways to solve math problems.

“We want them to be able to do the algorithms, but we also want them to think about what they’re doing and why they’re doing it,” Reames said.

Jamie's sister, 13-year-old Yvonne, says the program has helped her learn different ways of solving math problems.
“I can figure it out easier than before,” she said.

Many students also gain confidence from participating in Mathnasium lessons.

“Once they start making progress, you see their confidence begin to soar,” Reames said. The confidence can carry over, helping students do better in other subjects as well, he said.

Making math fun
Although the curriculum is focused on mathematical enrichment, Mathnasium staff try to incorporate fun into the lessons.

Students have reward cards, which get punched when they complete worksheets. Once the whole card is punched, they can pick out a prize, such as candy, a stuffed animal or an iTunes gift card.

During the summer, Mathnasium features weekly themes, some of which have included pajama week, World Cup soccer teams, Hawaiian week and beach party. Students can get their cards punched for dressing up based on the theme.

Work sessions also are broken up with game breaks in between, giving students a chance to relax and enjoy a round of Uno, Chess, Spot It! or other logic-based games.

Jamie Huynh said the game breaks are her favorite part of Mathnasium. “I like how everybody has fun doing what they do. Even though you’re learning new stuff, they try to make it fun for you,” she said.

A focus on enrichment
Although Mathnasium centers have grown in numbers over the past 12 years, there have been some challenges, like keeping up-to-date on school curriculum.

Assessment levels for Mathnasium topics correspond with the Common Core standards recently implemented in Ohio and all instructors are trained in Common Core standards.

“We do have our own math curriculum, but we want to be able to help kids with their homework,” Reames said.

While homework help takes up 50 percent of the lesson time during the school year, though, Reames emphasized that Mathnasium is a learning center, not a tutoring center. With enrichment as a key part of the lessons, the goal is for students to work independently.

“Our goal is not just to get them an A on the test or homework, but to go back and fill in the gaps to understand why the homework is so difficult,” Reames said.


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