|Office of the Chancellor / Public Affairs||
Monday, November 15, 2004
Modesto Bee 11-15-04
Academy solving math problems
Teens go from hating math to enjoying solving problems
and analyzing formulas during a weekly acad-emy designed to spark interest
in the subject.
In the 10-year-old program at California State University, Stanislaus, college students and local teachers coach students in grades seven through 12 on math problems and help them with homework.
"I've been trying to tell my friends to come, but they don't want to because they hate math," said 15-year-old Ariel Guardado, a 10th-grader at Ceres High School.
Guardado, who's in his second year of HiMAP, said he used to feel that way. But he's discovered that math can be fun. He got a B in ninth-grade algebra, thanks in part to HiMAP.
"The reason they hate math is they feel pretty powerless," said Sundar, a math professor at Stanislaus State. "They don't understand, and they're confused."
HiMAP, which meets for an hour and a half each Wednesday for about four months, aims to empower students.
Sundar offers them tips. She advises them to use graph paper and a ruler, to write neatly and to highlight words they don't understand.
"They realize that it is not that much of a mystery if they take it inch by inch," she said.
Theresa Yates, a 15-year-old Central Catholic High School student, also is a repeat customer.
"I've never liked geometry, and last year, my freshman year, I had to take geometry," she said. To her surprise, she said, "the coaches made it really clear. I completely understood it."
Coaches such as Paul Benjamin, a teacher at Gustine High School, act as guides. They teach students how to learn so that when they're on their own they can do problems correctly.
Benjamin's daughter started in HiMAP in the eighth grade. By her junior year in high school, she was beyond her father's limits in math, he said.
"I really think HiMAP opened her eyes," Benjamin said. "Because of the girls — the college students — helping her out, she could see it wasn't not cool."
Sundar, who started the program, volunteers her time making sure students are on task in the HiMAP sessions. She estimates 1,600 students have attended.
"Parents may force them to come, but it is voluntary," she said.
Besides, she said, students like the idea of going to a college campus to learn.
She requires students to wear HiMAP T-shirts to class, and boys and girls are in separate rooms. It's part of an effort to minimize distractions.
Students don't seem to mind.
"I think the presence of the opposite sex kind of makes you nervous," Yates said. "You don't want to sound confused in front of everyone else."
HiMAP began in 1995 as an all-girls program for ninthto 12th-graders. At the time, a U.S. Department of Energy study showed that American universities were not training enough scientists to fill available jobs, Sundar said. The university got involved because students were coming to college unprepared, she said.
Sundar has made a few changes over the years. She's added boys, and seventhand eighth-graders, and the academy shifted from Saturdays to Wednesdays this year.
The program was free for a time, thanks to grant money. But with grants and donations dwindling, Sundar now charges $50. That includes 14 sessions and one or two conferences.
Attendance is down this year. With 37 students, there are half as many this year as last. Sundar attributes the drop in attendance in part to the cost.
Sundar estimates she operates the program with $5,000 a year from a variety of sources, including the California Math Council.
To offer a program that would more closely resemble HiMAP of the past — at no cost to students, a $50 stipend for good attendance, guest speakers and more — Sundar estimates she'd need $25,000 a year.
With or without more money, Sundar insists the program works.
"Any student who comes to HiMAP for six weeks in a row is guaranteed to pass the next test or to go up their semester grade by one letter," Sundar said.
One former student has received a doctorate in math, and a handful have gone into medicine, she said.
Sarah Bostan, 14, said her teacher at Modesto High School doesn't explain math very well and talks really fast. In class, she's left scratching her head.
But at HiMAP, she said, math is interesting.
"They ask you, 'What part of it don't you understand?'" she said. "Versus at school, I raise my hand and they'll say like, 'OK, well let me explain it one more time.'"
Bostan said her friends have noticed that she's gotten better in math.
"I have a lot of 'smart' friends who don't really get math," she said. "I didn't get it either."
She tells them she's going to HiMAP. "They're like, 'What's that?'"
Her success, and attitude, tell the story. Beaming, Bostan reported her
latest math test score: 97.4.
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