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Math As A New Class, Can It Be Fun?

Updated: Oct 26, 2020

Before explaining why we are rolling out math as a class, let me explain how we got to this point. In July, we had 3 instructors leave due to personal conflicts and replaced them with 4 amazing teachers who are passionate about their profession or seeking to learn more through teaching others. It is always hard to see instructors go because we lose something every time, whether personality, technical gifts, or a way with the students. As a result though, we hired our first out-of-state instructor, a super-smart, driven young man starting his freshman year at MIT named Bryson. Bryson chose recursion as his first topic to teach, a difficult concept that demonstrated his confidence and initiative. I had asked him to develop curriculum for a Game Development Level 1 class to precede Unity, using a process document and framework that I created. While reviewing his deliverables and, separately, his students' understanding of recursion, we started talking about math and how he has spent time teaching math in all his classes at MCP. And that's how the seed was planted.

Now onto the 'how' of our approach. Our approach to teaching math will be different than Kumon or Mathnasium because we want learning math to be fun and relevant. I hesitate to call the class a math class because of the stigma associated with math. We don't plan to teach with worksheets and tests. Our existing methodology uses hands-on, project-based learning artifacts to introduce coding or game development or photo editing. We believe in learning by doing, not rote repetition of formulas and algorithms. Our approach has been to encourage students to understand and enjoy solving problems using code or software as tools. Our Digital Arts program solves visual problems with digital solutions. Our Web Development program also solves problems requiring both visual and technical solutions. Software and code are merely tools, just like math is a tool to address daily issues like "How many apples can I buy for $2?" or "Can I get to the store with 1 gallon of gas left?" Our end goal is the application of what we teach, including math. We want to empower kids with tools for learning STEM, building projects, and solving problems, and math is a natural fit in our collection of teaching tools, along with tools like Scratch and Python.

I had noticed that math in some form was covered regularly by most of our instructors in the process of creating with code, even though math wasn't officially a part of our class curriculum. It wasn't until Bryson speculated that math could almost be its own class that I realized we needed to offer that subject and that it fit naturally into what we were already teaching. It has been exciting to discuss with various instructors not only ideas for getting through to students but also new, exciting topics that can help us grow and reach more students. Math is a prerequisite for learning Computer Science, and although coding doesn't have to include any computer science concepts, true appreciation and understanding of coding requires math. The math can start as simple as the Cartesian Coordinate system and remainders and get as complicated as factorials and recursion, but by using math as a tool and creating applications using math concepts, we hope that students will start to see math as fun and relevant. Stay tuned for the rollout of our newest class - Math in Action! Now if only there was a title for the class that doesn't include the word "math"!

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