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Math Jam Program Honored with J. Russell Kent Award

Professor Michael Hoffman and Amanda Pitts

Cañada's Math Jam Program will receive a J. Russell Kent Award from the San Mateo County School Boards Association at a special ceremony on Monday, May 20 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Foster City.

Math Jam is one of 19 educational programs in San Mateo County that will be recognized and is the only college program receiving the award. The awards are given to outstanding and innovative programs either in the classroom or outside. Programs must promote student success, employ a high degree of creativity, and demonstrate transferability. Named after the past San Mateo County Superintendent of Schools, J. Russell Kent, SMCSBA initiated the award program in the 1980-81 school year.

Math Jam is an intensive, two-week, Math Placement Test preparation program for students who wish to test into a higher level math course or would like to review math concepts in preparation for upcoming math courses. The program's goal is to improve student success in math courses and thereby reduce the completion time for an associate degree or to transfer to a four-year institution.

Math Jam began in 2009 and was originally modeled after programs elsewhere in the state. Math Jam has four major goals:
  • Help students progress faster through the school's math sequence to enable them to transfer to a four-year school earlier or to complete an associate's degree earlier.
  • Recruit as many students as possible into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) majors.
  • Increase students' awareness of the tools and skills they need to be successful college students.
  • Develop a community of learners among program participants.

The first Math Jam illustrated the power of the program. Nearly 94 percent of the students who took the Math Placement Test a second time scored higher after completing the two-week program. More than 63 percent improved their scores enough to be placed into a higher math course than their pre-Math Jam results.

While Math Jam began with STEM funding and was originally designed to recruit students into STEM majors, it has now grown to include students from all majors. “It also helps students in the social sciences, art, and humanities,” Stringer said. “The primary goal of the program is to help students progress through school faster, regardless of their major.

The program is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

"Initially, we recruited students into the program who tested into a level of math lower than expected or just below the cut-off score for the next higher class," said Janet Stringer, Dean of Science and Technology.

The following year, the program had grown to 129 students with similar success rates and now Math Jam has grown to more than 200 students. The college has added evening Math Jam sessions as well as two additional one-week mini-Math Jam sessions, both day and evening, serving more than 300 students every year.

Amelito Enriquez, professor of mathematics and engineering at Cañada College, presented a paper about the success of Math Jam at the 2012 American Society for Engineering Education Conference in San Antonio, Texas last June. Titled “Strengthening the STEM Pipeline through an Intensive Review Program for Math Placement Testing”, the paper received the Best Paper Award from the ASEE Mathematics Division.

This past January, Professor Michael Hoffman and Cañada students Amanda Pitts, Bushra Bibi, Jose Covarubias, Rolando Del Valle, and alumnus Christina Arenas traveled to the Joint Mathematics Meetings in San Diego to make a presentation on the success of the program.

Hoffman said Math Jam does more than just help with test scores. “It builds community among teachers and students,” he said. “As a teacher, I can watch tutors as they explain math concepts to students. I am able to observe how the student learns and the best concepts to use to convey the lesson. As teachers, we get together after these sessions and really discuss the practice of teaching.”

Pitts, who serves as a Math Jam tutor, said students forge friendships with other students, tutors and professors and when they begin class, they feel like they have a support network. The program has about one tutor for every five students.

"The efforts of our faculty and staff in developing Math Jam has led to both improved student success and brightened the spotlight on Cañada College as a program innovator and model for colleges across the nation," said Cañada College President Larry Buckley.

Cañada has used the Math Jam model to create similar programs in physics, English and reading.

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