Students take control of their own learning in Extension's Summer Math Jam

13 days. 191 students. 3 professors. 16 tutors.

There has never been a program quite like the Summer Math Jam at San Jose City College’s Milpitas Extension, or at the main campus, for that matter.

A collaborative effort between the college and Milpitas Unified School District, the intensive math program, which took place during July, offered Milpitas High School students the opportunity to take a rigorous course taught by college professors. Along with sharpening their math skills, students receive all the preparation they need to take an advanced placement test the day after the class ends.

The Math 1, 2, and 3 courses were offered via Zoom from 8:30am to 4:15pm. Students were broken up into groups of 40 per class. Each group was led by one professor and a few peer tutors. Professors would start the day by teaching their class, and after a few hours, students would break up into small groups, where peer tutors would guide them through lessons.

Although there was a good deal of homework, none of it was graded. In fact, there weren’t even quizzes or tests. The only motivation was the students' own willingness to learn and engage in the program, and of course be well-prepared for their placement test on July 29.

“The students weren’t there to be taught; they were there to learn. They took control of their own learning, and our professors and tutors were there to smooth out the rough spots,” said Extension Director Mike Mooney, who was among the educational leaders who worked to plan and hone the program over the last few months.

Since this was a unique experience, it was important that a completely new textbook be created specifically for this course. Accordingly, a curriculum was laid out and an online publishing company was contracted to begin creating the hybrid textbook.

The textbook and the class itself were free, making the Summer Jam even more of a special opportunity for students.

Teaming up with MUSD

As recently as four years ago, MUSD had no standard process for placing students in an accelerated math class. Staff found that some students who were placed in advanced classes weren’t necessarily ready for them, so they decided to come up with a program that would prepare students for an accelerated placement test, the results of which would determine whether or not the students were prepared to advance to the next level of math.

“We wanted to make sure students were appropriately placed—that we were challenging kids but that they weren’t in a class that was too hard for them,” said Amanda Gross, Assistant Principal of Milpitas High School. “So the district came up with this plan and essentially students cannot accelerate more than one level a year…”

That plan involved teaming up with the Milpitas Extension and giving students the opportunity to study with college professors during the summer. For the last couple of years, students have taken more traditional math classes over a 6-week period. In the 2018-19, we had 53 students; in 2019-20, there were 184 students; and in 2020-2021, that number bumped up slightly to 191 students.

"The math professors from the main college are returning and saying that Milpitas is the best place to teach. They like teaching math for the high school students, and they see it as an equity issue,” said Mooney. “Basically, it’s an equity issue in that if we didn’t do it, they’d have to go to a for-profit and pay for it. Most of the kids that do this can afford it, but not all can. So if we’re going to create a program, we wanted to create it for everybody.”

Working with Tutors from Cal Teach

Three of the peer tutors in the program were graduate students from UC Santa Cruz. Through a program called Cal Teach, these students were able to bring their experience and knowledge to the table while working to hone their teaching skills. The aim of Cal Teach is to give university math and science majors experiences in K-12 settings, to prepare them to get their teaching credentials or get into a masters program at UC Santa Cruz. Peer tutors from Cal Teach worked with the high school students during breakout sessions, which professors would often hop in on to offer support and make sure things were going smoothly.

Dr. David Lopez, who works as an Evening Administrator at the Extension, came onboard the program as a mentor supervisor for the UC Santa Cruz tutors.

Having dedicated years to teaching, supervising, and overseeing credential programs, Dr. Lopez brought a wealth of experience to the table in terms of supervising the tutors throughout the program. Dr. Lopez also served as President of the National Hispanic University in San Jose, which had one of the largest teacher credential programs in Northern California. Before that, he taught at New Mexico State University, supervising student teachers, and then moved on to Fresno State, where he’d been recruited as a professor of education, supervising regular students and graduate students in the teacher credential program.

Being a part of the Math Jam was a very special experience for Dr. Lopez. Seeing how motivated the students were, and how dedicated the tutors and professors were to pulling off such an intense program, was quite exciting to witness.

During the week, he would join in on Zoom sessions to listen in to the group instruction. After group instruction, Dr. Lopez would then move from group to group to listen in and see all the peer tutors teaching the high school students.

“I was able to look at how they're getting students engaged, what strategies they're using, how they use the white board on zoom…” said Dr. Lopez. “And if I want, I can send a private note. Or I can just listen in and take notes.”

At the end, the professor always does a debriefing with the tutors, and Dr. Lopez was able to take part in these discussions and reflect on what they did well and where they could improve.

“I really enjoy working with Mike Mooney, the Extension, the college and MUSD,” said Dr. Lopez. “We’re truly closing that chasm between Higher Education and K-12."

Professor Michael Davinia, who has been teaching math courses at San Jose City College since 1986, worked with the peer tutors from Cal Teach, along with one Milpitas High School senior. All of them offered tremendous support, and Davinia feels he couldn’t have done it without them. And he was thrilled to see how committed high school students were to showing up each day.

"I think the students were very motivated to learn as much as they could,” said Davinia. "They didn’t take tests and quizzes. They didn’t turn in homework or get graded. Those usual motivations weren’t there. Their motivation was there to learn as much as they could to pass the test. That provided a strong motivation. And they responded very well.”

In the weeks to come, we'll be sharing more about students' results from the math programs over the last few years.