“It never fails, every time I tell someone that I'm a math teacher they say 'oh my god, I hated math when I was in school,’” chuckled Elizabeth Marin, math teacher at Ánimo Inglewood Charter High School. As a math teacher, this is the same sentiment many of her own students carry as they enter her classroom at the start of the school year. Though she’s aware that not every student will leave her class in love with math, her goal is to ensure that all her students can confidently engage it.
Rebuilding a Foundation
Marin began teaching math at Ánimo Inglewood in 2011. She always knew that she wanted her classroom to be a space where students felt open to engage challenging material and safe enough to take risks and encounter failure. “In my experience, students often struggle with math because it’s been difficult since the beginning of their relationship with it, which for many people is elementary school,” recalled Marin. “Elementary school is a time where students go from the basics of adding and subtracting to really abstract math and that's where it stops clicking for many.”
Since math is very spiral, building on each layer of knowledge, if a student falls behind in elementary school, they’ll lack the foundation to engage more difficult math in later years. “It’s not uncommon for students to have difficulty with things they should've learned in elementary school, and this makes it difficult for them to succeed in high school level math,” said Marin.
“As a math department we try to make sure that even though mathematics may not be a student’s favorite subject, they can at least feel successful in it,” said Marin. “Having students feel successful in the content allows them to be more open minded about it even if they may struggle.” Our curriculum helps students reflect on their own learning and build confidence in their abilities as mathematical thinkers and problem solvers.
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
Marin credits the collaboration among teachers as one of the reasons why Ánimo Inglewood’s math program is so strong. In 2017, Ánimo Inglewood juniors surpassed the state in math proficiency by 19 percentage points, and surpassed the Inglewood School District average by just over 43 percentage points.
"The goal of the math department has always been to be really collaborative and practice vertical learning. We have the same prep period and it's a time where we all work closely with one another,” said Marin.
“We are able to go to any math teacher and say ‘I need help with this, can you show me how you taught this?’” Green Dot teachers work together towards a shared vision of instruction, one where all students have the necessary supports to successfully acquire higher level math skills.
The math department at Ánimo Inglewood works really hard to make sure their students reach college with a strong grasp of college level math, which means they must offer a calculus course. Calculus is the highest level of math offered in most high schools; however, according to a 2016 report from the Department of Education, less than half of the nation’s high schools even offer calculus, and just a third of schools that predominantly serve students from underserved communities offer it. The Department of Education also found that only 44 percent of high schools serving underserved communities offer Calculus. Furthermore, calculus is a fundamental class for those pursuing careers in science, technology and math (STEM)-- fields that underrepresents both people of color and women, yet accounts for over 8.6 million jobs in the United States. Opening up pathways to this field is why our math curriculum serves to promote a balance of conceptual understanding, procedural literacy, and meaningful strategic problem solving.
A Passion for Excellence
Marin fell in love with math early on. In first grade, her teacher saw she was excelling in the subject and started tutoring her in algebra. “Math always had an answer for me. It was never ambiguous, and you could control every aspect of it, and I fell in love with that.” Though her love for math grew, Marin never thought she’d pursue a career in it. It wasn’t until high school when one of her past teachers hired her to tutor his daughter in math that she considered a future in teaching. “I had been tutoring her for a couple of months and I began to realize that I really enjoyed helping others overcome their fear of math,” recalled Marin. “I just knew I wanted to do this for the rest of my life."
After completing her credentialing program, Marin began substitute teaching, “I subbed at different schools, including a few of Green Dot’s schools. I immediately saw how our charter schools provided many resources to students who didn't typically receive them from traditional schools, and it was such a different school environment than the one I grew up with,” recalled Marin. “What I saw at Green Dot was that educators were able to deeply connect with their students and show them that there is more than they may have been exposed to.”
Marin believes math gets a bad rap: “Math is all about a way of thinking, about being logical, and connecting the dots to solve the puzzle using all the knowledge you’ve compiled,” said Marin. “In their other courses students have to take all the information they learn and synthesize it, just like in math class.”
Despite what they were saying in August, by the end of the year, many students tell her, ‘Ms. Marin, I don’t hate math anymore. I’m not the best at it, but I feel comfortable doing it because of you.’ Those words alone fuel her passion and make her fall even more in love with teaching.