San Marcos, TX
Supporting:Mathworks at Texas State University
The First Day of Math Camp
For the past seven summers, I have been working with a math program for middle school students. The kids stay on a college campus for two weeks, and are taught by university faculty and undergraduate mentors. The program emphasizes problem solving and introducing young students to algebra concepts, preparing them for later math classes they will encounter. The students themselves come from varied backgrounds – a significant number hail from disadvantaged families and are offered full camp scholarships.
This past summer, I worked closely with two students, Camiren and Nina, who are pictured in the photo. The former from Atlanta, the latter from Houston. Each evening, the kids are given “Study Group” time to work on math problems together. This particular night, Camiren and Nina were engrossed in a question that involved cards and counting. They tried different approaches and methods. Pretty soon, their work filled one of the chalkboards of the classroom we were using. Exclamations of “let’s try this!” and “how about this?” were often repeated. Two or three times they turned to me for some gentle nudging in a certain direction. This continued for almost an hour.
“We got it!” - Camiren pumped both of his fists in the air and Nina had a grin from cheek to cheek. What was even more amazing was their eagerness to try the next problem. Not wanting to stem their enthusiasm too much, I gently suggested that they simply sit back and reflect on their beautiful work that was now scribbled out across several chalkboards. The excitement of knowing that their efforts had finally paid off was evident in the sparkle of their eyes. To me, it was fascinating to see that the two, who had been strangers to each other mere days before, could now work so well together on a rather difficult problem.
The two weeks quickly flew by, and it was exciting to see Camiren and Nina, as well as all the other students, grow in their self-confidence. Just as important were the chances to collaborate with their peers, something that is so rarely emphasized in school-year math classes. As Nina commented, “Now I know that taking the time to explain something is really worth it, just to see the other person’s face change into an expression of astonishment and understanding.” The intellectual and social development was neatly summarized by Camiren when he wrote in his post-camp reflection, “I definitely believe that I am now a different person than the boy who entered the lobby on that first day of math camp!”
The summer contained many great memories, but I will always go back to that one night where perseverance, grit, and enthusiasm were on full display by some promising minds. If we can nurture even more of these young students who are bursting with potential, then I think the country will be in good hands!