When it comes to learning, Mathnasium is onto Something

Mar 28, 2015 | Boise

In the Jan. 30 weekly edition of Louisville Business First, theSnapshot featured Mathnasium of St. Matthews, a learning center that offers math-only tutoring for students in grades K-12. One of its secrets to success is that it tailors its teaching approach to each student's learning style.

"I myself am a very visual person," said center director Katie Drew. "So if someone doesn't draw me a picture, I may not understand it."

Richard Hunt, who owns the St. Matthews franchise, lives in Bowling Green, Ky., and operates anotherMathnasium center there. There are more than 550 Mathnasium Learning Centers worldwide.

According to a 2014 study by Vania J. Ma and Xin Ma, published in the International Journal of STEM Education, "One of the most enduring concerns among mathematics educators in the USA is the enhancement of students in mathematics performance."

So if the Mathnasium method is working, math instructors across the country might want to take note. As I mentioned in the Snapshot, studies on the global Mathnasium company have found, in fact, that the centers significantly improve students' math performance.

The Ma and Ma study goes on to say: "Since the 1960s, international comparative studies have consistently demonstrated that students in the USA lag behind students in other developed countries in mathematics performance."

It seems we have some catching up to do. And since Mathnasium — an after-school tutoring center — is doing so well, I can't help but wonder why its methods haven't been incorporated into every state's math curricula.

In the 1983 book "Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences," Howard Gardner described nine types of intelligence: linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, naturalist, interpersonal, intra-personal, spacial and existential. If Gardner was right, math won't come as easily to many of us as some other subjects will.

If math isn't your forte, having someone tell you it's easy can be supremely frustrating. The folks at Mathnasium understand that. Even Drew knows what it's like to not understand something that others pick up easily. "I'm used to getting it," she said, "so when I don't, it's frustrating. I think kids are the same way."

Drew said that often, parents who are good at math are at a loss to help their struggling child. "They think that they ought to just understand it, and kids don't always just understand it," she said.

That's where Mathnasium's customized approach comes in. "We can reteach in the method that they understand," Drew said.

The key is figuring out what that method is for each child. To solve that problem, Drews draws from her experience in special education. "I feel like my background helped me to pick things like that out in kids," she said. "(It) also gives me a good variety of things to try."

Sometimes giving real-world examples can help turn on the light; sometimes it helps to draw a picture. Students often grasp a problem when they see it illustrated by dividing something into parts and then figuring out how many parts they need, Drew said. "Breaking it down into that very basic principle really helps them to understand it."

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