Story and photos by Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor
Math makes more sense for Spencer McDermott-Horne now that he’s concluding his first year in Skyline High School’s Math Mentoring Program, which offers regular one-on-one peer support.
“The mentoring program is really good because kids can work at their own pace, and it’s just a lot easier when there’s more one-on-one time,” said Spencer, a freshman. “Rather than being at home, where you don’t have a mentor there and it’s almost like you’re guessing and just relying on what you learned in class, it’s better being in class and learning from a mentor. You get a lot more work done.”
This is the fourth year Skyline has offered the Math Mentorship Program and coordinating teacher Laurie Hochrein says there are advantages for everyone involved.
This year the program has grown to 50 student mentors supporting 13 classes including Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra 2 and Academic Support classes.
Students are placed in groups that are headed by a mentor, which could be a Skyline student, a teaching assistant, or student teacher.
The student mentors get an elective credit for peer facilitating while the mentees benefit from valuable individual support. The goal is to get students through the class—typically Algebra I—with strong skills.
“I meet with the mentors about once a week and we talk through the entire experience: How can they be more effective? What strategies are working or not working? We talk about encouraging student independence and we share stories of successes or challenges,” said Hochrein. “They know not to go up to a fellow student and say, `Do you need help?’ Instead, it’s “Show me how to do this problem.’ Or: `This is so cool! Let’s try this!’ So It’s about showing authentic enthusiasm for mathematics. And about learning and being curious and inquisitive.”
“They have that altruistic feeling of having helped somebody; they strengthen their own math skills, and it’s creating bridges throughout the building where students who wouldn’t have automatically had that connection now do.”
In addition to the Math Mentoring Program, Hochrein offers a “flipped classroom.”
It works like this: The assigned homework each night is to watch one of Hochrein’s or student teacher Nina Scheinberg’s instructional Youtube videos, each of which is about 10 minutes long, and attempt a couple of problems. An advantage of the video is the ability for students to pause and replay as often as they need to process the information.
The next day, the mentors provide support and feedback in learning the concepts, while Hochrein makes the rounds in the classroom, checking in with individual students, making sure they’re grasping the material.
Altogether, they’re working on math about an hour a day.
In a typical math class, students listen to a lecture while taking notes. But struggling students may not always find that helpful, said Hochrein, adding: “This way, they’re more fully engaged.”
The mentors are required to keep journals to record what strategies they’re using and how their fellow students are doing.
Senior Louisa Stoll originally joined Skyline’s Math Mentoring Program two years ago to help other students with their math while she earned an elective credit.
“But what I got out of it was really something unexpected,” she said. “I got increased math skills, communication skills, and overall relationships with underclassmen. I think that’s really valuable.”
Hochrein agreed that while the mentees improve their math skills grades, the mentors learn how to articulate math processes, build relationships and prove themselves as good role models.
Hochrein says she is constantly trying to get students to realize the why in math, rather than just memorize a formula.
In addition to providing support in foundation math courses, the Math Mentoring Program also runs a tutorial center during lunch periods for students in all math courses. Mentors provided support to nearly 500 student visits to the lunchtime tutor center in all math subjects. We love math and we’re hoping to spread that passion to others.”
“We love math,” says Hochrein, “and we’re hoping to spread that passion to others.”