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  1. Steve Kahn
  2. Director, Center for Excellence and Equity in Mathematics
  3. Presenter’s NSFRESOURCECENTERS
  4. Wayne State University
  1. Mobashira Farooqi
  2. Project Manager
  3. Presenter’s NSFRESOURCECENTERS
  4. Wayne State University, Math Corps
  1. Christopher Nazelli
  2. Senior Lecturer, Mathematics
  3. Presenter’s NSFRESOURCECENTERS
  4. Wayne State University

Developing and Studying the Replication of Math Corps, an Out-of-School -Time...

NSF Awards: 1612400

2021 (see original presentation & discussion)

Grades 6-8, Grades 9-12

Since 1992, the Wayne State University Math Corps has worked to provide Detroit's children with the kinds of educational and lifetime opportunities that all kids deserve. Now, what began as a purely humanitarian effort, rooted in social justice, has become a highly successful mathematics and mentoring program, being replicated and studied at sites in Cleveland, Philadelphia and Utica, NY - with five new sites being planned.

Centered around a philosophy based on "loving and believing in kids", the Math Corps celebrates each child as "unique, beautiful and irreplaceable"; provides every child with a second family - where high school kids serve as big brothers or big sisters to middle school kids; builds community around the values of kindness and integrity; and attends to kids in the moment (a hug, a smile, the telling of a joke). These principles combined with a revolutionary mathematics curriculum, have produced dramatic results. Studies show large gains in mathematical achievement at all sites and in the long term, a significant and large impact on college enrollment.

But in the spring of 2020, with Detroit ravaged by COVID-19, a program built  entirely upon human relationships, faced a decision to close or go virtual. With so many children struggling - from seeing parents lose their jobs, to being deprived of their educations, to watching people they love fall ill or even pass away - the Math Corps simply needed to be there. No matter the uncertainties, the challenges or the many probable failings, the Math Corps  needed to be there. Yes. we're running!

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Discussion from the 2021 STEM For All Video Showcase (10 posts)
  • Icon for: Steve Kahn

    Steve Kahn

    Lead Presenter
    Director, Center for Excellence and Equity in Mathematics
    May 10, 2021 | 08:36 p.m.

    Hi everybody. Welcome to our video about the Math Corps, an award-winning  summer and Saturdays program for middle and high school students. Rooted in social justice and based on "loving and believing in kids", the Math Corps celebrates the individual while immersing every child in a mutually supportive community - where kindness rules and kids are empowered to teach and care about one another. A revolutionary approach to the mathematics itself, completely recreates Algebra ( including Arithmetic ) as an amazingly simple subject. Research conducted under an NSF AISL grant, at expansion sites at Cleveland State, Drexel and Mohawk Valley Community College, show that both the Math Corps' culture and dramatic increases in student achievement are replicable.

    We would love to talk about the role of "love" in STEM education, approaches to Algebra and Arithmetic, or expanding the Math Corps to universities or colleges in other cities.

  • Icon for: Laura Larkin

    Laura Larkin

    Facilitator
    Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow
    May 11, 2021 | 05:05 p.m.

    Hi Steve-

    Your Math Corps program looks amazing and fun.  I love the "love" in your program and I'm sure that is the key to your success.  I have several questions.  How do students/families find out about your program? How long does the typical student attend your program?  I'm also curious if you saw a decline (or increase) during the pandemic.

  • Icon for: Steve Kahn

    Steve Kahn

    Lead Presenter
    Director, Center for Excellence and Equity in Mathematics
    May 12, 2021 | 10:37 a.m.

    Thanks so much Laura. To answer your questions:

    1) We send out applications to all Detroit public schools ( including charters). Also, we run in-school programs and that helps. We are currently working with DPSCD to build a city-wide  math literacy program that would guarantee that every child in Detroit is made mathematically literate ( having mastered arithmetic) by the end of the 8th grade. (We estimate that about 80% of Detroit kids are mathematically illiterate when they enter high school.) And finally,  after thirty years, the Math Corps is pretty well known in the city.

    2) The Math Corps was founded, not as a math program, but as a social justice program with the goal of making a real difference in kids' lives. In the face of the enormous challenges faced by kids growing up in Detroit, we decided that we needed to create a "lifetime" program, where kids would come back year after year. When the. kids move on from middle school to  high school, they become paid Teaching Assistants in the program. Typically, out of 160 high school kids in our summer camp, about 140 - 150 are former MC middle school kids. , Most of our college students , serving as team-leaders and mentors, started in the Math Corps as "little kids" as well.. The program leadership largely consists of former kids.

    3) Last year, ( the camp that's captured on the video). we ran a full camp with 400 kids. This year however, after a year of Detroit's schools  running virtually, there has been a significant decline in applications. We'll probably be running with 300 kids this summer. Many of our families and kids are telling us they simply need a break and will come back when we're in person again.  I've heard that the average daily attendance rate in Detroit's schools is currently around 30%. May not be accurate, but probably not far off.

    With respect to love: Building the program around "love", was a natural result of the program's origins. The math was the vehicle ( a powerful one to be sure) and secondary to the main goals - provide kids with a place where they would be safe, cared about and cared for, provided with a second family ( with big brothers and big sisters) part of a community centered around kindness and where making children smile was paramount. (Humor is central to the program - not simply a funny joke told by a cool teacher. ) And then of course,  if you love your child, you want to provide them with a powerful education. And then , you teach math.  

  • Icon for: Bridina Lemmer

    Bridina Lemmer

    Facilitator
    Technical Assistance Consultant
    May 12, 2021 | 05:44 p.m.

    Hi Steve! 

    Wow! The fact that the majority of your high school teaching assistants are former MC middle school kids speaks volumes about the personal impact this program has had for them. I wonder if you can speak to the transition from in person to virtual a little more because this has been a struggle for schools across the country especially as it pertains to equity, and it appears you've been able to navigate that smoothly.

    Have you had any feedback, perhaps from the students that have experienced both now, about the pros and cons of the virtual program?  I'm guessing they (like most of us!) prefer the in-person experience, but adding a virtual cohort each year could potentially reach even more students that have to babysit siblings or work over the summer, for example. What are your thoughts?

  • Icon for: Steve Kahn

    Steve Kahn

    Lead Presenter
    Director, Center for Excellence and Equity in Mathematics
    May 13, 2021 | 01:26 p.m.

    Hi Bridina,

    Our high school TA's are the heart and soul of the program and the keepers of the culture. They are steeped in the principles and practices of "loving and believing in kids" -  having "grown up" in this  very special place ruled by kindness.   On the first day of TA training, they're shown a video of the Little Rock 9, and come to understand and embrace the fact that they're being asked to change the world. They see the middle school kids as "their kids" and feel tremendous responsibility for them and tremendous joy in caring about and for them. The little kids then aspire to be TA"s.

    I wish I could say that the transition to virtual was smooth, but converting a program that is so reliant on building  relationships -where hugs and smiles and kind words exchanged in the hallway are as natural and important as breathing - to an online format, was really hard. I think we all agreed on the bottom line: there were a million things that we couldn't do in our usual way, but the magic of kids caring about kids, and the program's relentless efforts to make kids smile, overwhelmed whatever was missing.

    In terms of feedback, 92% of the kids rated the Camp with an "A" or "B" ( mostly A's). Our test scores took a bit of a hit, increasing from 30% pre-test averages to 80% post-test. Normally we hit 90%. None of the kids   talked about the pros of going virtual. Of course, as you point out, the main benefit to us would be to reach more kids. We now know that we can run a really effective  program online - not nearly the same as in person - but still powerful.

    From some TA's:

    " I loved it. My team was amazing and my College Instructor and my kids made my day everyday."

    " Math Corps is such a beautiful place. It's like Thanksgiving when you go back for seconds. I always want to return. "

    " No other place treats me like family more than these guys, who love me for who I am and have made me the man I am today. I love it here."

    " I had a really great time this summer, despite it being virtual. I think that Math Corps still achieved its goal of changing the lives of young children and making a difference."

     

  • Icon for: Laura Larkin

    Laura Larkin

    Facilitator
    Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow
    May 14, 2021 | 02:59 p.m.

    Hi again Steve-

    Is your program in other areas besides Detroit?  What would it take to replicate your program in other urban areas?  After 30 years, you must have a great wealth of knowledge around best practices.  I watched the video on your website and am even more inspired and impressed.

  • Icon for: David Barnes

    David Barnes

    Facilitator
    Associate Executive Director, NCTM
    May 14, 2021 | 05:05 p.m.

    Steve and team, I really like the messages you bring to these treasures and the energy and enjoyment that pours out of the screen.  Two questions, you describe as an approach which makes Algebra “an amazingly simple subject.”  (I might say “understandable” rather than “simple.”)  Can you share with us what that approach entails?

    Second you talk about the project as a social justice program.  Could you talk about how students are engaging in social justice as part of their learning of math, if I have that correct?

  • Icon for: Steve Kahn

    Steve Kahn

    Lead Presenter
    Director, Center for Excellence and Equity in Mathematics
    May 17, 2021 | 08:58 a.m.

    Hi Laura,

    We are in the midst of both a national and regional expansion. In Southeast Michigan, we have sites at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor ( serving Ypsilanti kids) and Oakland University ( serving Pontiac kids), and will be opening a site next year at U of M, Dearborn ( serving kids from Inkster, Ecorse and River Rouge). Saginaw Valley State, Lawrence Tech and the University of Detroit Mercy have expressed interest in joining the network as well. All targeted communities are currently underserved.

    Nationally, thanks to our NSF AISL grant, we have sites in Cleveland, Philadelphia and Utica, NY. Next year we will be opening a site at Spelman College in Atlanta and with, funding - a site at Portland State University serving native children. The Director at Spelman, Professor Viveka Brown, has worked in the Math Corps for 20 years, starting as a college kid at Wayne.

    An anthropological study and an evaluation conducted by Mathematica Policy Research, under our NSF grant show that the Math Corps is highly replicable in terms of both its unique culture  ( centered around loving and believing in kids) and the dramatic gains in mathematics achieved by our kids. As our grant comes to a close, we are finalizing a collection of materials designed to support the building of new sites - a detailed operations manual; a handbook on our philosophy, principles and associated practices;  a book on messaging ( life lessons, ethical and values-based talks, inspirational quotes and stories), our text and accompanying instructional materials; and of course - a book of Math Corps jokes and comedy routines.

    We’ve established a Math Corps 501c)3 to facilitate fundraising for and management of a national expansion. To open a new  site, we’d need a university or college partner to house the program and someone(s) ( typically from the Math Department or College of Ed or some STEM entity on campus - with an interest in or passion for the cause)  who could assume a leadership role in making the site happen. The rest is not that hard. 

    The Math Corps is comprised of hundreds of practices that follow logically from our philosophy and principles - similar to an axiom system. For example, loving and believing in kids leads to the “Math Corps principle of equality”: While positions in the Math Corps fall into a heirarchy ( my position as Director allows me to ask a student ( respectfully and warmly) to take a seat as class begins) , as human beings we all have equal value. A practice that follows: Never take a student’s property. A student on a cell phone in class is asked to leave the class with a promised discussion afterwards. No one (adult or kid ) has the right to take another person’s property. Another example: Loving and believing in kids leads to the principle: Celebrate every child as “ unique, beautiful and irreplaceable “ A practice that follows then is our dress code - which is no dress code. 

    And thanks so much Laura, for your kind words

     

     
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    Steve Kahn
  • Icon for: Steve Kahn

    Steve Kahn

    Lead Presenter
    Director, Center for Excellence and Equity in Mathematics
    May 17, 2021 | 11:37 a.m.

    Hi David,
    As founders of the Math Corps, my partners and I were coming from two places: we desperately wanted to engage somehow in helping kids in Detroit and we were mathematicians who were basically clueless about teaching K-12 math. As we reviewed texts and various curricula in Arithmetic  and Algebra,  we were astonished to find nothing that made sense to us. Instead we came to understand why Algebra is the most feared and hated subject on the planet. Thirty years later, the Gates Foundation, through its “Grand Challenge” is still seeking a “ cure”. 

    We believe we have a cure. It’s all about the content - not the delivery. The reason why teaching English is difficult,  is the English language itself: “laugh” instead of simply “laf”, to “play” becomes “played”, but to “go” becomes “went”. In much the same way, the subject of Algebra as taught, is completely incoherent, inconsistent, inefficient, unnecessarily complicated.

    It starts  at the start. Ask 30 Algebra teachers: “What is Algebra?” and you’ll get 30 different answers. ( I’ve done this many times). In the Math Corps, we’ve  embraced a precise and beautifully simple definition of Algebra that comes from its advanced counterpart;  where we learn about groups and rings and fields. So we define K-12 Algebra as “ the study of the operations on the Real Numbers”. All at once two things happen:

    1) Algebra is transformed into an incredibly simple subject:  learning about just two things - addition and multiplication. All of the standard topics - exponents, factoring, solving equations, evaluating expressions, etc. are covered as simple applications. 

    2) Arithmetic becomes a natural part of the course, reviewed ( or sadly, taught thoroughly for the first time in districts like Detroit) up  front, intentionally and in Detroit, with absolute urgency. Instead of trying to fill in huge gaps in background ( or hardly trying at all), kids who have been deprived of a legitimate K-8 math education, now get all they need to succeed 

    Mathematically, instead of teaching objects (fractions, mixed numbers, decimals, roots, polynomials, complex numbers) with each object having its own ad hoc  ways of operating (fractions - get a CD, decimals - line up the decimal point, polynomials- combine like terms,...), by focusing on the operations, we get consistency across all objects. With our “Main Principle of Addition “, adding all of the objects mentioned above essentially becomes just a one day, unified  lesson. 

    We have taught our Algebra course in a number of Detroit schools - with dramatic results. In ninth grade, we cover  Aritmetic ( The Real Numbers and  then The Operations on the Real Numbers sequentially) in the first semester. With that foundation, we’re then able to cover the entire standard content of Algebra 1 in the second semester alone.  High school Algebra 1, for students who have already mastered Arithmetic, becomes a one-semester course!  Of course, in that case,  if we wanted to, we could take the whole year to embellish the course with all kinds of cool enriched activities and topics. 

    That the Math Corps is a social justice program plays out on many levels. First and foremost, it directly impacts kids from underserved  communities, both immediately ( through care and love) and long term ( through education and building habits of success). The Math Corps is a “lifetime” program, where kids return and are supported year after year.  Second, we enlist our kids in the fight . On day one of training for our high school kids, they see a video - not on how to tutor little kids - but on the “Little Rock 9”. They see their jobs as working to change the world for themselves and the little their asked to mentor and care for. Our mathematics classes model a kind, caring and just world. All students take two courses: Broccoli ( basics) and Ice Cream (advanced topics). Our advanced kids in the Broccoli classes understand that their role is to share what they’ve achieved and support everyone else. In the Ice Cream classes, typically run as exploration and discovery classes, all kids are expected to contribute ideas, and all ideas are valued. Finally, we present our kids with a vision of a world ruled by kindness, where not only are differences tolerated, but they’re celebrated. When you enter the halls of the Math Corps, a sign greets you: “Welcome to the Math Corps. Please remove your mask.”

    Thanks David,  for your interest and kind comments. Getting  back to Algebra, I’d be happy to send you a copy of the text book if you’d like to se the details of how this works. 

     

     

  • Icon for: David Barnes

    David Barnes

    Facilitator
    Associate Executive Director, NCTM
    May 17, 2021 | 12:16 p.m.

    Thanks Steve!  I agree that focusing on operations provides much more mileage and needs foregrounding and connections.  Sounds good.

    I would be interested in seeing what you developed.  Thanks.

    Dave

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