A City Education: Forget Basketball, It's Time for 'March Mathness'

Only 15 percent of students at Los Angeles' Markham Middle School are proficient in math.

In our A City Education series, two City Year corps members share their experiences working as tutors and mentors in schools in hopes of closing the achievement gap and ending the dropout crisis.

"I hate math!" "Why do we have to do this?" These are common complaints I hear in the math classroom I work in at Markham Middle School in Los Angeles. I sympathize with my students—I remember crying in frustration over math. But ready or not, every student in the state will take the California Standardized Test next month, which helps determine what classes they take next year and generates federal funding for Markham—and they must be prepared for the math section.

Being prepared won’t come easy: Only 15 percent of students at Markham score "proficient" or above in math, while the rest are "basic" and below. I explain to the students that I overcame math anxiety and made it to college. But positive motivation only goes so far—the kids also need intensive work on their math skills. It can be hard for one teacher to reach every student in class every day, so small-group tutoring at City Year provides crucial support. That means my team at Markham has been busy working, both one-on-one and in small groups, on math concepts with the 85 percent who are not proficient

My teammate Tessa introduced her students to a month of "March Mathness", a play on the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament, to review what they’ve learned this year. At the beginning of March Mathness, all of her students took a diagnostic exam in which each question focused on a sixth-grade math standard. Tessa colored in a square next to each student’s name on a large poster if they could demonstrate proficiency in the standard by providing the correct answer to the corresponding problem. She then placed students into small groups that corresponded to the standard they need to master, which allows them to receive individual attention.

One student in particular, Matt, has a hard time focusing in class and has had trouble finding the "greatest common factor" on math problems. Tessa knows he has the aptitude to do well, but he needs a learning environment that's tailored to his needs. So this month, Tessa has been working closely with Matt, going over numerous practice problems and giving him individualized instruction on the concept.

Tessa is there every step of the way, looking over Matt's shoulder, as he works out the problems. Tessa and Matt review every problem he gets wrong so he doesn't make similar mistakes again. Thanks to her efforts, we recently heard Matt say with pride, "I finally get it!"

Indeed, Matt has improved significantly, colored in plenty of standard boxes next to his name, and told Tessa that he's "one step closer to doing well on the CST." Tessa reminds him that scoring well on the test is important, but his bigger goal should be developing the confidence to take more math classes.

I also try to boost my students' morale by doing little things that make them laugh—after all, they can only hear about my own math anxiety so many times. I made a paper puppet called the Math Monster that attacks kid's desks when they're not doing their work. If a student needs help, the Math Monster will stay at her desk. The students know math is as challenging for me as it is for them, so I make a good role model, showing that I will won’t give up until they understand.

And now because Matt will survive Tessa's "March Mathness," my Math Monster won't creep up on him in the future. When Matt and my students get to factoring polynomials in high school, they'll see those sixth-grade math concepts as a first step to solving those problems and will understand they have meaning beyond the CST.

Photo courtesy of City Year Los Angeles

Ottawa Humane Society / Flickr

The Trump Administration won't be remembered for being kind to animals.

In 2018, it launched a new effort to reinstate cruel hunting practices in Alaska that had been outlawed under Obama. Hunters will be able to shoot hibernating bear cubs, murder wolf and coyote cubs while in their dens, and use dogs to hunt black bears.

Efforts to end animal cruelty by the USDA have been curtailed as well. In 2016, under the Obama Administration, the USDA issued 4,944 animal welfare citations, in two years the numbers dropped to just 1,716.

Keep Reading Show less
via I love butter / Flickr

We often dismiss our dreams as nonsensical dispatches from the mind while we're deep asleep. But recent research proves that our dreams can definitely affect our waking lives.

People often dream about their significant others and studies show it actually affects how we behave towads them the next day.

"A lot of people don't pay attention to their dreams and are unaware of the impact they have on their state of mind," said Dylan Selterman, psychology lecturer at the University of Maryland, says according to The Huffington Post. "Now we have evidence that there is this association."

Keep Reading Show less
via Real Time with Bill Maher / YouTube and The Late Late Show with James Corden / YouTube

A controversial editorial on America's obesity epidemic and healthcare by comedian Bill Maher on his HBO show "Real Time" inspired a thoughtful, and funny, response by James Cordon. It also made for a great debate about healthcare that Americans are avoiding.

At the end of the September 6th episode of "Real Time, " Maher turned to the camera for his usual editorial and discussed how obesity is a huge part of the healthcare debate that no one is having.

"At Next Thursday's debate, one of the candidates has to say, 'The problem with our healthcare system is Americans eat shit and too much of it.' All the candidates will mention their health plans but no one will bring up the key factor: the citizens don't lift a finger to help," Maher said sternly.

Keep Reading Show less

There is no shortage of proposals from the, um, what's the word for it… huge, group of Democratic presidential candidates this year. But one may stand out from the pack as being not just bold but also necessary; during a CNN town hall about climate change Andrew Yang proposed a "green amendment" to the constitution.

Keep Reading Show less
Me Too Kit

The creator of the Me Too kit — an at home rape kit that has yet to hit the market — has come under fire as sexual assault advocates argue the kit is dangerous and misleading for women.

The kit is marketed as "the first ever at home kit for commercial use," according to the company's website. "Your experience. Your kit. Your story. Your life. Your choice. Every survivor has a story, every survivor has a voice." Customers will soon be able order one of the DIY kits in order to collect evidence "within the confines of the survivor's chosen place of safety" after an assault.

"With MeToo Kit, we are able to collect DNA samples and other tissues, which upon testing can provide the necessary time-sensitive evidence required in a court of law to identify a sexual predator's involvement with sexual assault," according to the website.

Keep Reading Show less