Merced area school borrows Silicon Valley math idea

Teachers at McSwain School are using a math method they’ve borrowed from a Silicon Valley group to try to strengthen students’ grasp of math concepts.

Called the Problem of the Month, according to a press release, the method is copied from one used by the Silicon Valley Math Initiative, a coalition of organizations looking to prepare students for technology and other modern jobs that require math skills.

Teachers in the McSwain Union Elementary School District, which is on the outskirts of Merced, learned about the program during a training through the Silicon Valley Math Initiative. The teachers have begun the program with fourth- through eighth-grade students.

Lauren Lanum, a sixth-grade math teacher at the school, said the program offers different approaches so students can master math concepts they may not have understood before. “It’s about the thought process and how did they get a solution,” she said, in the release.

A different mathematical concept is covered each month. Several times during the school year, students see the work others have accomplished, which are placed on posters in the library, cafeteria, gym and school corridors.

Collaboration among students and the sharing of answers are encouraged. It’s a different approach to the same math problems students in past years have studied. “Yes, it’s OK to work together, talk together,” Lanum said. “The world’s competitive and these kids are going to have to overcome challenges.”

Students are charged with figuring equations out as a team, sharing conclusions and discussing how those were reached.

Lanum said teachers want the students to struggle at first, but students could reach a better understanding of the math concepts.

John Pazin, 11, said the math exercises get progressively harder and he has gotten stumped on occasion. “It takes a lot of thinking,” he said.

For more on the Problem of the Month, call the district at (209) 354-2700.