Mrs. Goodell, a Mayfield Class of 1999 alum, valued her students’ ability to explain how they reached the correct answer more than their ability to be the first one to get it right. And, no shame in a wrong answer.
“I like it when you are wrong, it keeps your brain growing,” said Mrs. Goodell as her students practiced subtracting negative integers. “It keeps me growing as a teacher, too!”
The intense buzz inside this and three other classrooms showcased the inaugural year of the Mayfield Summer Math Institute, an initiative launched last June with our incoming freshmen with the goal of expanding the program to middle school girls next year.
At its core, the initiative is designed to eliminate this sentence from girls’ high school conversations: “I’m not good at math.”
Camila Torres ’22 said she enjoyed the camaraderie of group work “because you see your mistakes faster when you are talking it out with other girls...I found that certain methods they were using were easier than mine!”
The end game of the institute is two-fold, explained Melissa Tighe, Math Department Chair and Director of Innovations and Community Partnership.
First, all girls will enter Mayfield better prepared to take on high-school level math, embracing a new mindset of collaboration, confidence and rapport with their teacher. As the program grows, younger girls will also strengthen their math skills to be high-school ready as they take placement tests.
Camila said said she entered her first high school math class with “so much more confidence...I already knew what to expect and that math can actually be fun and welcoming.”
Second, Mayfield teachers are showing students how to learn math in a way that makes it part of their cognitive wiring, rather than rote memorization of equations and rules that are quickly forgotten, Mrs. Tighe said.
“We need to be strengthening foundational skills before the girls enter high school and before we launch them into upper division mathematics,” Mrs. Tighe said. With students coming to Mayfield from 39 feeder schools, it makes sense to even the field in summer, rather than taking valuable school-year instructional time.
Underlying their class activities, incoming freshmen were hard at work mastering topics they need to be successful in algebra or geometry courses through practice and problem solving.
Each had taken a diagnostic exam that had pinpointed areas of unfinished learning.
The program also took aim an annual math problem—summer learning loss. Studies indicate that about 2.4 months of school-year learning is lost over the summer months if students are not practicing math, Mrs. Tighe said.
Rather than a 15-pound textbook, students are given manageable and customized work packets that target their needs. They are taught that there are many ways to solve a problem. Their job is to figure out what works best for their long-term learning.
“I want them to know that math is not just a set of rules to memorize and regurgitate for a test,” Mrs. Goodell said, “But you can understand a problem and visualize it in different ways, work it out in a group and explain itto others—that’s mastery.”
Math teacher Kenny Fisher had three questions for one team of girls who were figuring out time and distance calculations.
“Can you explain it? Can you defend it? Are are you ready to present it to the class?”
In this math class, communication was as important as calculations.
Mr. Fisher believes said that real value of the program is clearing up “all the small things” before school starts.
“Math gets tough as you go along if you have little holes in the beginning,” Mr. Fisher said. “You have to know how to do all the foundational things in order to do the more complicated stuff. Even if girls know it, this is the refresher they need to really take off.”
In six weeks they took on decimals, expression and equations, fractions, geometric measurement and coordinate geometry, integers, and patterns and sequences.
Then there was fixing “Nana’s Chocolate Milk Recipe,” a lesson on proportions and ratios—a storyline relevant to all fans of both grandma and cocoa.
“We are re-learning all the stuff that you easily forget,” said one incoming freshman. “All the group work is helpful. It’s like we are discovering all these different ways of understanding a problem.”
Olivia Sanford ’22 from Barnhart School echoed the enthusiasm.
“This has made me feel so much better about my math foundation,” she said. “Seeing the different methods of learning has really helped me understand things so much better.”