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College of Science and Mathematics

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Math Academy Brings Hands-on Math to High School Students

October 26, 2012

Fishing Boat
 Professor Amélie Schinck-Mikel (second from left) helps students Jose Gutierrez, Rick Callado
and Celia Solano (left to right) work a math question during their campus visit in October.

SAN LUIS OBISPO — This summer, two mathematics professors taught 18 high school students to get excited about math. Elsa Medina and Amélie Schinck-Mikel led the first-ever Math Academy for teachers and students from Santa Maria and Pioneer high schools.

The week-long program introduced students to a new way of doing math. The group used a hands-on approach to algebra and geometry, drawing pictures and building models to help them discover solutions.

"There was no immediate algorithm to get to the answer," Medina said. "They had to figure it out."

Most of the students were not previously high performers in math. The academy, funded by the Teacher Quality Program and Teacher Recruitment Project grants held by Cal Poly's School of Education, brought out their inner mathematician.

"The most exciting part for me was seeing how creative the students’ solutions were," Schinck-Mikel said. "They were thinking of ways to solve problems I hadn’t thought of."

The problems were designed to address the upcoming common core standards that will be put into practice in high schools nationwide beginning in fall 2013. The standards represent a shift in secondary math education, and the academy gave the high school teachers a taste of the changes.

Zenia Iniguez, a 9th-11th grade math teacher at Santa Maria High School, accompanied the students on a campus visit in October, the first of three visits the students will make to Cal Poly throughout the year. Iniguez smiled as she watched the students working a problem in small groups.

"It is very enlightening just to see that students don’t mind putting that much thought into things," Iniguez said. "More than anything it broadens their horizons of what they can do and how they can use math in real life situations."

Medina and Schinck-Mikel chose Santa Maria and Pioneer high schools because the student populations there are diverse. Both are first generation college students, and they wanted to help students like them begin to think about college.

"Now they have a link to a university that's really not that far from them," Schinck-Mikel said.

The academy will likely run again next summer. Medina and Schinck-Mikel want to expand the program, but funding beyond summer 2013 is uncertain.

"All the kids said, ‘Please invite us again next year,’" Medina said.


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