Mathnasium could support children during Common Core implementation

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JOSH KULLA - Lake Oswego Mathnasium owner and Center Director Bruce Withycombe and Assistant Director James Kim recently opened a Mathnasium in West Linn.Larry Martinek said most people do not actually hate math.

“They hate the way they were taught math,” said Martinek, the chief instructional officer of Mathnasium Learning Centers.

An educator for more than 40 years, Martinek created a teaching method that customizes learning for each child, explaining it in a way that makes sense to him or her. One thing Martinek focuses on is determining what children may not have learned in previous years that is holding them back from moving on to the next math level.

Mathnasium offers resources to students from kindergarten to 12th grade. Services include tutoring, serving as a resource for advanced math learners and helping students prep for college entrance exams and state assessment tests.

There are more than 400 Mathnasium locations in the world. In Oregon, there are four sites: one in Portland, one in Beaverton, one in Lake Oswego and one in West Linn, which had its grand opening this month.

The Lake Oswego locale was busy this summer, in part because of an incoming near-nationwide change to curriculum and standardized testing: Common Core State Curriculum and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium exam, said Bruce Withycombe, the owner and director of the West Linn and Lake Oswego centers.

Common Core is a multi-state-led initiative starting in the 2014-15 school year. The new standardized testing in English/language arts and math, SBAC, begins in spring 2015. The tests are based on the Common Core standards and will replace Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. Several local students will participate in an informal run at portions of the SBAC test this October at their schools.

This past summer, the Lake Oswego Mathnasium housed about 130 students, more than the usual 110 to 120 students and about 40 students from capacity.

“Language arts and math skills are essential in any economy but especially in the new millennium,” Martinek said. “So many jobs that used to be done by unskilled workers are now done by machines — more (jobs people do now) involve knowledge of math and science as well.”

Mathnasium offers aid prepping for SBAC and 1,700 pages of material, covering topics including Common Core, Martinek said. Yet, part of Common Core is instructing educators on how to teach as a group, while Mathnasium involves one teacher with one student or a small group, he added.

At its core, Mathnasium is about not only teaching students formulas and problem-solving techniques but also showing them how to think on their feet mathematically, which is possible when students gain in-depth understanding of math concepts.

“Learning math is just like learning an instrument and learning an art,” Withycombe said. “There’s muscle memory there, and we need to help kids learn fundamental skills.”

Common Core curriculum is aimed at a similar thing, an effort to instill in students a higher level of thinking.

“One hallmark of mathematical understanding is the ability to justify, in a way appropriate to the student’s mathematical maturity, why a particular mathematical statement is true or where a mathematical rule comes from,” states the Common Core website.

There are concerns about the new difficult curriculum and testing. Students initially could receive lower scores than on the current state assessment, said Donna Atherton, Lake Oswego School District director of secondary education.

Kentucky offered assessments for reading and math aligned with Common Core standards in 2012, and the number of students who were proficient in reading and math dropped by about one-third in elementary and middle school in the first year.

Mathnasium reaches thousands of children, and the organization’s tutors could offer an academic boost amid a time of change.

Lake Oswego Astrid Buchhammer thinks they will: “I can bet yes, definitely yes, because I think they really can explain everything.”

Buchhammer said Mathnasium has helped all four of her children improve their math skills and explore enrichment material.

“The kids like it,” she said. “It’s a nice learning atmosphere. The teachers, they’re doing a great job.”

Mathnasium reaches thousands of children and could offer an academic boost amid a time of change. The company, which was founded in 2002, grew around Martinek’s teaching curriculum. Education leaders Peter Markovitz and David Ullendorff enlisted Martinek when creating Mathnasium.

Martinek said reaching so many young people honors his son, Nic, who died in a car crash at age 19 and was exceptionally gifted in math. Nic was an inspiration for the Mathnasium curriculum, showing Martinek that to teach math effectively, one must be able to help a child communicate about it in a meaningful way, he said.

“A significant portion of the population would say math is not my thing, and that’s really sad because we’ve taken kids from struggling to enrichment in just a few years, and there’s great joy in seeing that happen with kids,” Martinek said.

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