Teacher and student discussing work during The Calculus Project

A Day in the Life of Somerville's The Calculus Project

It’s a Tuesday morning in July. The first of three daily math instruction classes for The Calculus Project (TCP) is underway at East Somerville Community School. Somerville Public Schools District Data Coordinator Kenya Avant and Data Specialist Jason Behrens co-direct the program. Approximately 80 students from across the district who will attend 7th to 10th grades this fall are here. In one room, students in small groups are applying what they’ve learned about linearity and predicting the number of rubber bands needed for their Barbie bungee jump experiment. Across the hall, a doctoral student from MIT’s Playful Journey Lab within the Office of Open Learning is talking with rising 9th graders about the math assessment games and tools her lab is developing. A classroom down the hall is scaling their own building constructions with index cards, and another is working on proportions and scale factors to make fruit smoothies for everyone at the end of the day.

There will be a short break before another math instruction class, some hands-on mathematic activities such as building geodesic domes and using linear equations to create sun catchers, and then lunch. The day wraps up with individualized math practice using an online platform and a chance for The Calculus Project staff, which includes eight classroom teachers, eight high school peer mentors, and two high school administrative mentees to debrief and plan with Avant and Behrens for the next day. Optional extended day activities such as archery, soccer, Lego robotics, and basketball continue until 4 p.m.

TCP Origins and Planning for Success

Dr. Adrian Mims, the founder and national director of The Calculus Project, developed The Calculus Project curriculum as a concrete way to increase the representation of minority students, particularly African American and Hispanic students, pursuing and completing Advanced Placement Calculus in high school. Avant and Behrens use The Calculus Project curriculum as a base, and have catered the Somerville program to the unique resources in our community and the students’ interests. The program helps students gain content knowledge, skills, and increased confidence to succeed in high-level math classes. Students are invited into TCP by recommendation of their classroom teachers, but that is just the first step. Making sure that parents and guardians are familiar with the work that their students will be doing and the benefits of the program is also an important piece to ensuring students’ success. TCP program staff contact parents and guardians prior to the start of the program, and an information night is planned for the families to get a sense of the work and activities ahead.

Jason Behrens explains, “The Calculus Project offers cohorts of students three weeks of rigorous, engaging, and fun math activities and instruction coupled with a focus on growth mindset and exploring the work of local and historical STEM professionals of color. The program centers on ‘pre-teaching’ students math content they will encounter in the fall.” MaryAnn Cloutier, a TCP and Healey School math teacher, adds, “The highlight of TCP comes from working with the students. Everyone is involved; everyone is heard; they have a common goal and work to achieve it. Instead of thinking, ‘I can’t do math’ or ‘math is not for me,’ students come to the program to see what they CAN do.”

Students work on a group activity for The Calculus Project

Offsite Experiences and Guest Speakers

Field trips and guest speakers are integral parts of The Calculus Project model, since exposure to STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math) and involvement by minorities working in those fields supports TCP students’ self-perception and continued academic success. This summer, Avant and Behrens arranged for students to participate in offsite trips to Boston University’s Engineering Department, and Somerville’s Formlabs (a 3D printing technology developer). Students also had the opportunity to learn college-level mathematics from guest speaker Dr. Jonathan Esole, a Harvard Mathematics professor. Steffen T. Landrum, a pilot who has served in the military and flown for commercial airlines, visited with students to talk about the airline industry, opportunities for minorities in the field, and possible career paths for students interested in flying. Staff from DEILAB, a design company that works with learners of all ages to “awaken the design, engineering, and innovative (DEI) skills and talents in people,” led a rapid prototyping design lab for TCP students. Students worked on teams to create and battle Lego robots. To compete effectively in the two-hour experience, students had to learn from the successes of the other teams as well as their team’s failures.

TCP Conference Days

One of the most powerful components that Avant and Behrens added to The Calculus Project is conference days, which were designed by Floriesha Bastien, a Somerville high school senior and administrative mentee. TCP high school mentors lead conference days, and students chose to participate in two of four sessions, all of which focused on team-building and personal growth around three themes: identity, confidence, and voice. As Avant explains, what inspires her in this work is that The Calculus Project allows participants to “be in a space where they feel that they matter and are seen.” She reminded the entire Calculus Project team and their parents and guardians of this commitment when speaking to the students during the graduation ceremony on the last day of the summer program. Avant said, “Don’t forget. We’ve supported you through this program, and will continue to do so throughout the year. You never have to go it alone. However you define success, we’re here to help you get there.”

To learn more about The Calculus Project, please visit https://www.wbur.org/edify/2017/04/14/calculus-project-mims. To learn more about the mathematics curriculum in Somerville, please visit http://www.somerville.k12.ma.us/mathinsomerville.

A. Luthin, Writing Communications Specialist

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