When I went to school in Brooklyn growing up, math was never my best subject. I used to cringe every time I would enter my math classroom. Each test was a depressing reality of what I thought couldn’t change. But one day in high school, a teacher finally made it click for me during a parent teacher night. My mind used to be all over the place with how I’m supposed to find the right solution to the equation. However, Ms. Bonacorsi said something so simple that made a light bulb go off in my head: focus. After that, I got after school help and all the practice I needed. I still remember the pride in her eyes when she gave me back my pre-calculus final exam with a score of 96 on the top.

Mathematics is one of the most challenging subjects children face in school. It was no picnic for me, but I went from being a struggling student to one day actually tutoring it. My teacher’s dedication to ensuring I passed is one of the few aspects that got me to succeed. That same dedication, understanding and the right tools can lead many struggling students to be masters in the subject. One innovator by the name of Bob Moses is a part of the revolution in helping struggling students not only pass, but excel in math. NPR discusses Moses’ journey of obtaining a better tomorrow for African Americans during the 60’s to how he now pushes underprivileged children to be ready for college math through the Algebra Project:

Bob Moses is 78, but he has the same probing eyes you see behind thick black glasses in photos from 50 years ago when he worked as a civil rights activist in Mississippi. The son of a janitor, Moses was born and raised in Harlem. He’s a Harvard-trained philosopher and a veteran teacher.

He started a math training program — the Algebra Project — with a MacArthur “Genius Grant” 30 years ago. The goal is simple: Take students who score the worst on state math tests, double up on the subject for four years and get them ready to do college-level math by the end of high school.

Where many teachers want students to work quietly and individually with pencil and paper, Moses encourages students to talk through tricky concepts because he says being conversational in math is a key to understanding it.

Moses says the U.S. is failing to adequately fund the teaching of math. He says it shows in the kids he works with, many of whom have given up on math after doing poorly on state tests but also in the huge number of kids around the country who need remedial math courses in college. So he expects a lot from these students — commitment, extra summer lessons and engagement — but he’s gentle with them.

“It gave me another way of looking at math,” says Charlene Delanois, who graduated in 2010 from an Algebra Project class in the Liberty City neighborhood of Miami.

She says she hated math when she started, though now she’s helping teach the subject to this summer’s class. Delanois studies nursing, the first in her family to go to college.

She still remembers the moment, a few years ago, when she was taking a test and realized that algebra had clicked for her.

“This equation came up, and I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is the same equation we’ve been doing!’ It just wasn’t in the same format,” she recalled. “I was like, ‘Oh, I know this, I know this!’ and I figured it out, I was so proud of myself.”

Moses shows students how to measure slopes using a ruler made by the students. His Algebra Project classroom model uses a lot of hands-on tools to help kids make math less abstract.Enlarge image
Moses shows students how to measure slopes using a ruler made by the students. His Algebra Project classroom model uses a lot of hands-on tools to help kids make math less abstract.

Moses says this new-found competence is more than just empowering. It’s how these kids can avoid being second-class citizens when they finish high school, destined for low-wage, low-skill work on the second tier of an Information Age economy.

“Education is still basically Jim Crow as far as the kids who are in the bottom economic strata of the country,” Moses says. “No one knows about them, no one cares about them.”

It’s exactly this inequality in the education system — based more on class than race — that makes this work as important as the work he did 50 years ago, he says.

To read more, check it out here.