By Joshunda Sanders
Elizabeth Albee discovered her passion for helping students think deeply and more ambitiously about their aptitude for math during her first year as a high school teacher. The former IBM manager started teaching at Lyndon Baines Johnson High School in Austin in 2012, drawing on her background as an instructor while she was in graduate school earning a master’s in mathematics. She became a teacher because she loves working with young people. “They’re funny, they’re inquisitive and they have potential,” Albee said.
That potential is what led her get involved with the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement’s Math Masters Program. The program offering advanced high school math is in place at LBJ, Lanier, Reagan, and Travis High Schools and at two IDEA public charter schools. Students who participate can earn four hours of college credit from The University of Texas at Austin in addition to high school credit.
Math Masters is a program of the DDCE’s Longhorn Center for School Partnerships in collaboration with the Charles A. Dana Center and the Department of Mathematics at UT Austin. Through a combination of face-to-face and online support, resources created by the Dana Center in partnership with Agile Mind, Inc., Math Masters not only offers math courses but also an advisory course, the Academic Youth Development (AYD) initiative. AYD offers students innovative supplemental curriculum activities like role-playing and problem solving experiences that strengthen communication skills and motivation.
As rising seniors, the high school students have the opportunity to spend a week on campus. The students spend the mornings that week with Dana Center staff preparing for fall Calculus 408N course. In the afternoons, students have the opportunity to learn about college life, how to apply for college and financial aid, what to consider when selecting a major and how to succeed at college.
Albee teaches pre-calculus, AP calculus and advanced algebra at LBJ. She teaches the Math Masters curriculum to a group of about 90 students. She says the main draw of the program for her is “to help kids realize their potential. Math Masters does that, too – the whole program really tries to tap into kids’ potential.”
Dr. Kenya Walker, DDCE assistant vice president with the Longhorn Center for School Partnerships, said the goal is not just for students to be able to enroll in college-level math courses, but to also succeed in them. “With a college readiness mission, the intent of Math Masters is to strengthen the teaching and learning of advanced mathematics for high schools that are underrepresented in postsecondary institutions,” Walker said.
The program’s professional development component takes place a couple of times during the year – at the beginning and in the middle of the school year. “We have a lot of great support and a great, responsive team,” in addition to the summer training, Albee said.
During campus visits, Albee says her students are able to start envisioning themselves as college students by visiting collegiate math classes. “I brought in six of my sophomores. Math builds on itself, so they heard some terms they recognized and got excited. It was a really good experience for them.”
The Math Masters curriculum encourages students to think deeply about math problems, which will “help them in any course they take. One of my goals for teaching is to get kids to think, not just ‘Put this in a calculator,’ or ‘Tell me the answer,’” Albee said. “If we’re studying a topic, I want them to tell me what they think if we’re studying a topic where it is useful and where they see the problem in the world around us.”
For the fall 2013, the Math Masters program will offer a dual credit calculus course. Math Masters classes are separate from each high school’s general math curriculum.
“My kids have grown and I’ve learned a lot,” Albee said. “I’m excited to continue working with Math Masters because the students are thirsty for learning. They don’t have the support that a lot of us do, so it’s wonderful to have all of these people helping them get into UT and other places that they might not have access to.”