How to Get Involved
Girls to the Fourth Power
Preliminary Notes For
MIDDLEMATH: NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATION
BEYOND ARITHMETIC: OUR APPROACH
Middlemath aims to improve middle school math skills of specifically targeted student subgroups through a program of research, demonstration, and promulgation of successful techniques for middle school math -- which we view as in essence an introduction to fluency in symbolic analysis. Our approach is:
Customized: We focus on particular groups with specific problems – for example bright Hispanic males lacking peer or family support in Analytic Geometry. Or girls encountering the mystery of "X" for the first time. We think that differing learning styles of various groups and individuals need to be identified and targeted -- just as "niche marketers" identify and motivate specific customers.
Cross-aged: The industrial revolution spawned a factory-like education production line, but the old one-room schoolhouse, with its highly interactive mix of students, had something going for it. We believe in mixing age groups. Younger students often learn math best from peers and other students a year or two older, and older students learn by teaching younger students. Meanwhile elders can benefit from working as tutors and organizers.
Not for Everyone: Middlemath doesn't believe that global, one-solution-fits-all techniques work for math. So we don't necessarily try to help everyone. For example, some students will respond better to a formal and intellectual approach to math. Others may benefit from complete focus on occupationally-oriented arithmetic skills. Middlemath does not focus on these students, but on the student who probably can meet the college-bound grade but is otherwise low on support, unmotivated, or discouraged.
Pragmatic: Middlemath accepts and enthusiastically supports the reality and practicality of standardized tests (provided they democratically test math skill and not extraneous cultural experience). The new "traditional" California math standards are a particular focus because they probably represent a major retreat from the experimentalism and politicizing of math instruction in the last generation. We recognize that middle school math is as much a trial of the individual's suitability for higher education as a practical end in itself. We aim for the type of math success demonstrated by high-test scores. Our informal "engineering" and "software" approach to math learning, inspired by our practical MIT and Stanford roots, favors performance over theory, structure over loosely directed self realization.
Mind-stretching: Middle school math presents every student with an entirely new symbolic language: "X", the variable, symbol for a number. Whether or not algebra can be fairly said to be directly practical, there is no question that it is the first step in, and test of, the mastery of the tools of quantitative analysis, increasingly of critical importance to most of us who must strive to succeed in a technological society.
Connected: Middlemath started and operates where the action is: our center is in Menlo Park, California, center of innovation in the development and distribution of symbolic technologies and communications. Our directors, staff, and interns have world-class high-tech connections and altruistic fervor to apply the best knowledge delivery systems available.
Traditional: Math may be value free in content, but not in the demands it makes in learning and performance. Skill and speed, in algebra as in basketball, comes mostly from hard work, courageous persistence, and crafty strategy. Evasive substitutions of political theorizing or entertaining storytelling as substitutes for self-discipline and practice do not impress us (or our students). We uphold the traditional role and responsibility of both public and private education in developing character and citizenship in a context free of commercialism. Mathematics should not be a conduit for political correctness or advertising.
Unaligned: We applaud new educational delivery systems such as charter schools and unbundled support systems (private tutoring, distance learning) but also support the essential role of public and private education in contributing (along with family and cultural tradition) development of character and preservation of valued tradition without adulteration by commercial values.
Experienced: Our success must draw on four types of experience:
-A four-year head start as a self-funded volunteer group starting as a Stanford seminar and progressing to a successful summer program and award-winning web site.
-Directors with either recognized teaching accomplishments or world class experience in responsible development of institutions, technologies, and communications.
-Enthusiastic tutoring and research interns with recent successful experience in ether college entrance or job advancement (i.e., college students or technical/managerial accomplishment).
-The experience and support of our target student audience.
SPECIAL INITIATIVES FOR THE YEAR 2000
Continuation of Girls to the Fourth Power: Started in 1996, this summer research lab has offered a practical introduction to algebra for 7th and 8th grade girls on the San Francisco Peninsula at a site at the Sacred Heart School in Atherton. It includes two components: a tutoring program with one-on-one "older sister" mentors and an innovative and active web site drawing on both normative and putative interests and values appropriate to this student group and emphasizing coordinated graphics, animation, and audio for problem solving.
Algebra: A Millennial Quest: This book project explores, from the initiates' perspective, the contemporary meaning of algebra in world culture, from its middle eastern origins to the barrio to the cutting edge of silicon culture. Emphasis on role of algebra in amplifying capacity for symbolic analysis, foundation of much of the global economy today. Research for the book will involve site vistis to selected schhools in California representing a spectrum of communities in which candidate students for the program are likely to reside.
Algebra Latina: This project scheduled for the year 2000 explores the barriers and opportunities for improved performance in middle school math for Latino boys in California, a major at-risk group who are unable in many cases to exploit higher education and progressive employment opportunities because of serious middle school learning gaps. Program will proceed along lines similar to the Girls to the Fourth Power initiative, as follows:
-Six months problem definition and scoping, idea generation with strong high school-college student contribution at the site of a successful Charter School.
-Summer tutoring program/laboratory with about 20 students, five tutors, five research interns. Planned sites: Redwood City, California; Yuba City, California.
-Web site demo development of tutoring business model. We believe there is an opportunity for community based freelance tutoring (peers, college students, elders) combined with Internet technology.
Revised 10/20/99 rlm
Revised 3/6/00 rlm