First Person

Ask an Expert: What do you think of Mathnasium?

Q. Can you tell me about Mathnasium of Cherry Creek in Denver? Is it legit? My 8-year-old has a need for extra help in math. – Sharon of Colorado Springs

A. During the school year there are often homework clubs or times during the day that a student can go for help. In addition, there are often teachers who are willing to work as tutors before or after school. This option makes it easier for families.

However, if you are looking for something outside of school or during the summer, you have to go with the private tutoring centers or individual tutors. Depending on a tutor’s experience, the rate increases.

Teachers in training make good tutors

One place I’ve found decent tutors who don’t charge exorbitant rates are local schools of education at a local university. Pre-service teachers are often looking for contact hours with students and achieve this by tutoring. Many times they can work with a student on campus or at a local library or community center.

Parents can contact their child’s school for a list of recommended tutors, or consult the yellow pages or the Internet. If you can supplement these with third party recommendations it may be more informative, but I’d encourage parents/families to spend time at any facility they sign up for or sit with the tutor during the initial tutoring session to make sure the experience is what they are hoping for.

More about Mathnasium

Mathnasium in Cherry CreekMathnasium is a math only tutoring center that focuses on remediation and new topics of learning.  It is a chain. However, each center is independently owned and operated. While Mathnasium is nice because its focus is only on mathematics, it is a prescribed curriculum and not a one-to-one tutoring scenario. According to the owner, though, the ratio of elementary age students to instructors is 3-1.

When a student arrives or enrolls at Mathnasium they are given a placement test. This test has a written and verbal component.  Based on the results of this assessment – as well as parent and child input – goals are created for the students.  Once these goals have been determined, the coach starts working with a student to progress through modules that meet those goals.  These modules consist of tasks and worksheets that the students work through to provide practice and understanding around a topic.

While it seems that the work is skill-driven at times, there is also some one-on-one coaching.  The size and focus of the small group work is dependent on whether or not there is a group of students who are working on the same areas/goals. These small groups do allow for discussion and not just skill and drill activities.

Rates for an 8-year-old range from $20 to $50 per hour – averaging $25 per hour, according to Mathnasium staff.

I believe Mathnasium has potential as a place to support students’ mathematical learning and understanding. However, there are a lot of variables that will affect your child’s situation, as is the case with many tutoring centers.

In the end, it depends upon your individual student’s needs as well as his or her compatibility with the needs of the other students enrolled in the program.

Editor’s note: The information below comes from the Mathnasium website.

Sample of math learning at Mathnasium

The curriculum samples shown here represent critical topics Mathnasium addresses at each grade level. An asterisk (*) indicates program elements covered at Mathnasium that are not typically covered in most school programs.

4th grade

Rounding off

  • Round off any whole number to any place up to millions.
  • * “Is 1 5/8 closer to 1 or to 2?” for appropriate numbers
  • * “Is 2.07 closer to 2 or to 3?” for appropriate numbers

Find the missing numbers… (seeing patterns)

  • 1, 2, 4, 7, 11, ___, ___, ___
  • * 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, ___, ___, ___
  • * 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, ___, ___, ___

Problem solving

  • * State and understand that:
    • “The whole is equal to the sum of its parts.”
    • “Any part equals the whole minus the other parts.”
  • Solve two- and three- step word problems using two or more operations.
  • Use various techniques in problem solving:
    • Break down the problem into simpler parts.
    • Apply the “easier number” method.
    • Draw a picture.
    • Use mental math.
  • Check answer for reasonableness.


First Person

‘I didn’t feel like I had anyone to ask for support’: Why it matters to have teachers who look like me

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

For 10 years — the first decade I was in school — all my teachers were white women.

As a Mexican-American kid, I didn’t get the chance to have a man of color as a teacher until high school. Going into my senior year, I like how diverse my teachers are now, but I wish I’d had the same experience when I was younger.

When I think about why it matters to have a teacher I can relate to, I think back to fifth grade. A classmate said to me, “Mexicans are illegal—they cross the border every day! How about you, did you cross the border?” This bothered me. So, after class, I asked the teacher for help. But all she said was, “That’s OK, he was just playing.” From there, I had nowhere to go. She was at the top of the food chain.

In 1990, before they met, my mother and father came over the border from Mexico. My mom’s parents weren’t making enough profit from their cattle ranch, so they had little choice but to immigrate. My mom came with them to the United States and worked at a restaurant so she could send money back home. My father followed his older brother here because he wanted to start a new life. Little did he know he would one day cross paths with my mother and eventually start a family.

But my classmate was “just playing” when he insulted all of this. I wish my teacher had done something else.

If I’d been the teacher, I would’ve taken a different approach and worked to understand why we were acting and responding the way we were. Maybe the other student and I could’ve found common ground. But, unfortunately, we never had a chance to try.

Up until ninth grade, I had zero male teachers of color. I didn’t feel like I had anyone to ask for support when things like the fifth-grade incident happened. Many of us students felt that way — and that’s why I want to be a teacher, a fifth-grade teacher in particular. I want to make my culture an asset in the classroom and be a teacher students feel comfortable confiding in, no matter their background.

A teacher’s perspective: Cut from the same cloth: Why it matters that black male teachers like me aren’t alone in our schools

In middle school, I started seeing more male educators, but they were all white. Then, when it came time for me to start high school, I ended up going to school in a different neighborhood — an hour commute away—and things finally changed for me. Since starting high school, I’ve had six male teachers of color, and it’s made a huge difference.

My high school makes a big deal out of the whole “building relationships” thing. To my teachers and everyone else at the school, relationships are just as important as academics. At first, it was hard to get used to, but eventually it started making sense to me. I’m in an all-male mentorship group led by two African-American men who openly share about their struggles growing up in New York, and give us advice in any area of life — including what it means to appreciate our cultures. This is one of the things I like most about my school.

It’s hard to explain the way it feels to have a teacher who looks like you; they’re like older brothers who become a huge part of our lives, even if it’s just for four years. They make it easier to connect and socialize and help me feel more like I belong. To me, learning from someone who reflects who you are is one of the best things a student can experience.

Near the end of the school year, my mentorship group did an activity where we took turns getting asked questions by other students and staff. One of the mentors asked me, “What’s it like being Mexican American and how has your background influenced your goals?” No one had ever asked me that before, and it took a long time for me to process the question.

After a few moments, I spoke a bit about my family’s story and shared some of the stereotypes I had encountered and how they affect me today. Everyone was so supportive, and the mentors encouraged me to continue breaking stereotypes and defining myself rather than letting others define me.

It was nerve-wracking at first, telling my story in that group, but after three years of high school, we’d developed that level of trust. It was the first time I’d shared my story with that many people at once, but it felt intimate and very different from the time in fifth grade when that kid tried to tell my story for me.

Finally having teachers that look like me has made a huge difference. They don’t just mentor me and help me with my academics, they also make my goal of becoming a teacher seem more realistic.

Having men of color I can look up to and model myself after is a big part of why I have no doubt I’ll make it to college — and eventually be able to give other kids the type of help my mentors have given me. I know where I’m needed, and that’s where I’m headed.

Jose Romero is a senior at EPIC High School North in Queens, New York. This piece originally appeared on the blog of TNTP, a national nonprofit and advocacy group that trains new teachers.

First Person

A Queens teacher on Charlottesville: ‘It can’t just be teachers of color’ offering lessons on race

PHOTO: Bob Mical/Creative Commons

In a few short weeks, school will resume in New York and I’m already thinking about how we are going to address racism within the four walls of my classroom. I’m thinking about what texts, historical and current, we can read and films and documentaries we can watch to support dialogue, questioning, and solutions for combatting that ugly, pervasive thread in the fabric of our country’s patchwork quilt called racism.

Last year we read “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass,” a former slave turned abolitionist, and juxtaposed its reading with a viewing of Ava DuVernay’s documentary “13th,” which discusses modern-day slavery in the guise of mass incarceration. Students asked questions of the documentary as they watched it and discussed those queries within their groups and with the class at large afterwards.

We do our children and ourselves a disservice when we don’t have these difficult conversations as a part of our collective curriculums. However, many teachers from various walks of life are neither well-versed nor fully comfortable discussing race on any level with their students. Not talking about racism won’t make it go away. If anything, not talking about racism in the classroom further perpetuates racist ideologies that are, at their root, born out of ignorance. Education’s goal is to dispel ignorance and replace it with truth.

With that being said, just how many teachers feel equipped to facilitate lessons that touch heavily upon race in the classroom? Not nearly enough.

According to Teaching Tolerance, “The dialogue about race should start in the classroom — the teacher-prep classroom, that is. Preservice teachers should be exploring multiculturalism and discussing ways to honor diversity in their future classrooms.”

But often, Hilton Kelly, a professor of education at Davidson College in North Carolina told the site, the coursework isn’t giving future teachers the training they need to talk about race. “Even when future teachers take courses on diversity and multiculturalism,” Kelly said, “those courses don’t take the critical approach to race that future teachers truly need.”

“Food, folklore and festivals are not the same as an analysis of race in America,” Kelly argued.

But an analysis of race in America is exactly what needs to happen. Furthermore, it can’t just be teachers of color solely facilitating such lessons in their classrooms.

I don’t want to write about the events going on in Virginia. I don’t want to think about it. I’m so tired of the hatred and I long for peace, but I can’t very well in good conscience remain silent. That would be akin to protesting with those hate-mongers in Virginia last weekend. I can’t just write about back-to-school shopping, lesson planning, and business-as-usual while my brothers and sisters in Virginia are being murdered in cold blood by white supremacist American Nazis.

Are the children of Virginia safe? Are our children anywhere safe? What can I do to make a difference within the hearts and minds of the children whom I teach? If education is our best vehicle for bringing about change — which it is— how am I going to infuse the lessons I teach with critical thinking and analysis about racism in the United States for the seventh-graders entrusted in my care? How are other educators planning to address these events with their students at every grade-level?

I pose these questions to all who are reading. Whether you are a teacher, a student, a parent, an administrator, or a community member, I plead with you to work together to create answers that work toward healthy conversations and hands-on action in the fight against racism.

Vivett Dukes is a teacher at Queens Collegiate: A College Board School. A version of this post first appeared on New York School Talk