Nov 25, 2009 | Germantown
Mathnasium adds skills, subtracts frustration!

Memphis Commercial Appeal

The equation is simple: subtract fear and frustration, add knowledge, multiply confidence, and find a solution for students struggling with math. 

Landon Watts, 9, a fourth-grader at Emmanuel Lutheran School, works on his homework with center director Karim Valiani at the Mathnasium on Germantown Parkway. It's the second to open; there's also a Mathnasium in Germantown. "We hear over and over that my child is frustrated with math, confidence level is low," said Karim Valiani, director of the new Mathnasium franchise in Cordova, and also of the 14-month-old Mathnasium Learning Center in Germantown. "I've had parents come in crying and kids crying also." 

Shedding tears over trigonometry, or crying about calculus, is the exception -- not the rule. 

On a recent afternoon, St. Benedict at Auburndale High School sophomore Joseph Wilson crossed North Germantown Parkway to get 90 minutes of instruction at Mathnasium from a peer -- 16-year-old Andrew DeMaio, a junior at Evangelical Christian School, who still stews about the one math problem he missed on the ACT. 

Nearby, fourth-grader Landon Watts, who attends Immanuel Lutheran School, was solving simple algebraic equations. Even though the 9-year-old has struggled with some math concepts at school, he still called math "cool." 

Mathnasium is among a growing number of tutoring businesses that have entered the market including Sylvan Learning Centers, Huntington Learning Center, Kaplan Test Prep and Kumon Learning Centers. 

"Our mission statement is 'to teach math to a kid the way it makes sense to them,'" says Mathnasium's Valiani, 37. 

Now algebra is starting to make sense to Joseph, the student from St. Benedict, who, after two-plus weeks of tutoring, brought his grade up to a 78 from a 59. 

"Math? I used to despise it," he said. "I never got it at all." 

Although Mathnasium does not guarantee students will get the "A+" highlighted in the business's name, the company's literature boasts that independent studies have shown Mathnasium elementary students improve test scores by 24 to 46 percent. 

Valiani believes the change of venue -- from the school classroom or the kitchen table -- also helps. 

Mathnasium's décor is geared toward younger students. There also are words of inspiration, everything from Plato's "I have hardly ever known a mathematician who was capable of reasoning," to this bit of wisdom from Beth, age 7: "The number zero is a good idea." 

So is practice. Joseph comes here several times a week. He's learned that he needs to reinforce the concepts for them to stick. 

"For me, if I do it and stop, it just goes away," he said. "It's got to be repetitive." 

Said Valiani: "You can't really memorize math. You have to grasp it." 

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By Don Wade 

Wednesday, November 25, 2009