Final CUOS K–12 Education Outreach Program Report, March 2002

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III. Nuts & Bolts: Replicating Our Organization, part 4

B. Strategies, part 4

6. Avoid dollars with strings attached.

We are grateful not to have a substantial infrastructure or overhead to support, because we have been able to avoid compromising in an unhealthy way in the pursuit of funding. There are considerable grant funds out there for the taking, and it can be overwhelmingly tempting to take on partners or to modify programs to fit a Request for Proposals. We have gone so far ourselves as to invest considerable time and effort in such attempts, but pulled out before submission when we realized we were getting into something we did not want to follow through on. Anyone who lives and dies by grant funding can tell you stories about the kinds of partnerships-in-name-only and “deals with the devil” that can result. Be very clear about your values and beliefs, your goals and non-negotiables. Being adaptable, open to new ideas, and truly collaborative does not mean you must abandon your aims or force-fit them into programs where they do not belong. It is people who make things happen, and they need not cost as much as you might think. Find people who are also passionate about what you want to do and trust the money to follow.

    As an example, consider our career mentoring program in conjunction with the Downtown Ann Arbor Kiwanis Club. Driven by the convictions of some of our UM Reach Out! students, we had been trying to extend academic mentoring to encompass self-discovery and career exploration. There simply was not enough time! The high school mentees needed so much academic and study-skills help that mentors rarely managed to get to the rest. Our high school mentoring coordinator, Karyl Shand, developed and piloted group self-discovery workshops in an attempt to find the time. They work well enough for the self-discovery portion, in which teens learn about personality types, learning styles, multiple intelligences theory, and the like. But we believe that actual career exploration should be specific and individual. Instead of choosing from what is offered at a career fair or in a school-to-work program, job shadowing and tours should be tailored, after the hard work of self-analysis, to exactly what an individual wants to pursue.

    So, we developed a several-week career mentoring process that matches an adult mentor with one or two teens. Our mentor volunteers came from the Kiwanis Club and, consequently, have worked through their affiliated teen organizations—high school Key Club and middle school Builders Club. Each spring and fall, a group of about six mentors has met with 6–12 teens at their schools. The school computer labs allow the whole group to go through on-line diagnostic instruments, and discussion of the results actually seems better with the larger group. Once the teens fix on an area for further investigation, though, the mentors find people and places to visit and arrange for these trips. Often, several teens will tag along to learn more, but each gets at least one visit tailored specifically for him or her.

    The cast of mentors rotates with the personal commitments of each, but about a dozen of them do this at least once a year, and a few new participants try it each season. It has become accepted within the club now that community service, in addition to the prodigious fund-raising and grant-making of this club, can encompass this more personal service to youth.

    The club has also, however, committed continuing modest funding to support this and other programs run by the Reach Out! folk they have come to know and trust. Once they came to share our passion, they provided both the volunteer hands that make the work inexpensive and the funds it requires for materials and some paid planning and coordination time.

7. Give youth opportunities to do science and math.

There is no one or best way to accomplish this. We have tried multiple strategies over the years; none has been a complete success or a failure. The forms changed as the cast of collaborating partners did, showing that there is always some way to make a difference.

    Six or seven years ago, we would have said that our intent was to help teachers learn to infuse experiential learning into their science and math lesson plans. While many elementary schools have incorporated routine use of manipulatives into math teaching and learning, doing science was a little harder and messier. Teachers lacked materials (both consumable and reusable), time, confidence, and the extra hands needed to supervise a lot of hands-on learning experiences. Our plan was to provide materials and lesson plans, plus a community coordinator inside schools to organize and demonstrate them and to recruit community members to help out. After a few years, we hoped to be able to switch to new sites as the original ones no longer needed us.

    Things did work fairly well as long as we had a mother inside the elementary schools in Pontiac and Ypsilanti. The schools provided classroom space and paid for about half of the coordinators’ time, showing the value they placed on what was happening. But we cannot say we ever successfully reached the “hand-off” point: when the coordinators left, the programs atrophied quickly. This fact illustrates a genuine problem in trying to make systemic changes within schools: everyone is so over-scheduled already that they simply cannot add another thing to their plates. We did leave behind caches of materials and lesson plans, and cadres of teachers who are much quicker to turn to hands-on learning experiences, but, if this is a revolution, it is a small and quiet one—not the dramatic change we had hoped for. Even if school folk appreciate the value of what we brought, that does not mean they have the finances to spare to support it themselves. The programs died without paid people in the schools to coordinate them.

    After we lost the two mothers, one to another job and one because the school no longer contributed to her pay, we tried other strategies. In Ypsilanti’s George School, we collaborated with UM’s Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives to run four weekly, in-classroom science clubs for two semesters in 1998–99. The children learned from and greatly enjoyed them, and that was when we first became aware of the strong impact this volunteer work was having on the UM undergraduate students. Some students, in addition to financial support for the coordinator and for materials, came from OAMI, but most students were recruited from UM at large and from one fraternity, Pi Kappa Alpha. The fraternity brothers were particularly enthusiastic about how much they loved this work, recruiting others by word of mouth. There is just no substitute for having many hands to supervise science projects! Participants informally trained newcomers as the coordinator, recent UM graduate Aarti Raheja, had trained them—to let the kids do the work, to ask the right kinds of questions, to wait for answers, to suggest modifications to procedures and urge them to speculate about what might happen.

    What a lesson this was for us! We had resisted bringing volunteers to the schools, convinced that they would take over ownership of the program, so that it would die when the volunteers left. Well, we were mostly right about that, but that was only half the story. The kind of science we do with children will probably never be possible for a teacher with a full class: it requires way too much supervision and one-on-one interaction. It is extremely valuable for youngsters, though, and for the volunteers, as well. Now, we believe that we should offer such programs whenever we can, and there is no reason to lock them into school sites. We have been very effective at community centers run by predominantly black churches and at subsidized housing sites. The latter have the additional advantage that children are there as volunteers, themselves, which minimizes attitude problems that can impair or obstruct learning.

Applied math. Although “Math-Science” has long been part of our name and mission, there is no question that we’ve focused more on science. We do believe, though, that math is just as—if not more—important to keeping doors open for young people. Back in 1995, when we were forming this new coalition at UM, CUOS Director Gérard Mourou insisted that algebra is the key—the gatekeeper course that determines whether a teen will be able to pursue a technical career or not.

    That is why most of our academic tutor/mentoring has been assistance in math studies. Obviously, students often have difficulty with math, parents frequently feel inadequate to help them, and teachers have overwhelming student loads, so such services are a natural solution where a technically literate corps of volunteers is available. The major difficulty is one of reach—we will never be able to supply enough mentors for everyone who needs or wants one, which inevitably raises questions of equity. Those of us from other communities, or without teenage children, have been surprised to learn of the almost-universal resort to paid tutors among middle-to-upper-class high school math students in Ann Arbor. Imagine how much further behind this puts the disadvantaged! Universal math mentoring might actually work but is hardly a practical solution, especially for communities without a university full of potential mentors nearby.

    An alternate solution, we think, is to look outside of schools. Plenty of groups are working on various kinds of education reform, and that is certainly needed. As Carlos RodrÍguez noted in a June 2001 presentation at a National Science Foundation conference on The Cultural Context of Educational Evaluation, “We know we have a cadre of influential and entrenched mathematics and science teachers who do not believe the ability to learn mathematics and science is ubiquitous, but is really reserved for a select few.” These kinds of expectations can, of course, be self-fulfilling. Our work has absolutely convinced us that actual content knowledge—or the lack of it—is rarely as important as a learner’s motivation to learn and estimation of his or her ability to do so. These affective aspects can be dealt with outside of school. That is one reason to do hands-on science, to experience success and competence at “doing science.” In a similar fashion, youth can be given opportunities to “do math” in real-world contexts that reinforce both meaning and capability.

    The lesson I draw from [history and statistics] is that the idea of citizenship now requires not only literacy in reading and writing but literacy in math and science. And the way we guarantee this necessary literacy is through education conceived of much more broadly than what goes on in the classroom.  
- Robert P. Moses, Radical Equations

    Such opportunities to learn outside the classroom were a hallmark of our summer 2001 algebra program. Three young adults guided seven young teens through weeks of personalized teaching and learning, supplemented by a series of field trips designed to show how math is used in a variety of real-world settings. They tried doing the kinds of preflight calculations that are done by pilots, involving air and ground speed, fuel consumption, and fuel and craft weight. They did unit price comparisons at a grocery store. They measured their own bedrooms, designed a redecoration scheme, and went to a home improvement store to calculate how much of what they’d have to buy and what it would cost. They visited an interior decorator and learned even more about the importance of math to estimates allowing a decorator or a builder to cost out a proposed job. They visited the DaimlerChrysler Proving Grounds to learn about crash-testing calculations and the mathematical models that allow precise duplication of different kinds of test surfaces and tracks, in addition to experiencing some interesting speed and g-force effects on the various test tracks! They investigated the physics of weight machines and the interaction of speed, distance, and calorie expenditure at the Washtenaw Recreation Center. On a trip to the Ann Arbor News, they discovered that almost every job related to newspaper production now involves some kind of math. Besides seeing and experiencing many variations on “when we’ll ever use this stuff,” they also got plenty of insight into possible jobs and careers that might motivate them to get prepared.

    This is making the need to learn culturally convincing. Conviction about need will drive demand.... They are working on something because it is something they want to work on.... There are a lot of well-trained curriculum experts and others who know a great deal about math, but ... what is missing from their work is insight into the minds of the young people they are trying to reach.  
- Moses, 2001, pp. 102–103

    We all need to listen more to the young, and to get to know them well enough that they will really talk to us. Comments from the algebra students, part of the Voices running down the right side of all these pages, are eloquent about how eye-opening these weeks were for them. It is worth reiterating the message we receive over and over again from young people (not just this group): (1) they don’t even know what or how much they don’t know, and (2) they have no one to ask for help. We need as many ways as possible to assist them with both dilemmas. They need the time and caring attention of others—and school is not the only possible venue for that vital interaction.

    The community organizer seeking an innovative breakthrough in education will use the principle of “cast down your bucket where you are.” The organizer becomes part of the community, learning from it, becoming aware of its strengths, resources, concerns, and ways of doing business. The organizer does not have the complete answer in advance—the researcher’s detailed comprehensive plans for remedying a perceived problem. The organizer wants to construct a solution with the community.... This is a long journey and not a linear progression.... [In order to get to] all the students, we need the community’s political involvement and clout.  
- Moses, 2001, pp. 112–113

    We could not better describe the concept of learning community or the rhyme and reason of Reach Out!

   

C. Voices, continued

Adults will say, “Just ask for help,” like it is there for you when it really isn’t.

- Summer algebra student

These teachers know about us and our lives. They are closer to our age. I mean, they understand what we are dealing with, and I think they know more about what we are learning or how we learn. They relate to us. They set us straight, too, like: you better take control of your life, no one else is going to. Or they’ll say you know you can learn all of this, so it’s up to you to try and get it, or not. They really believe we all can learn all of this, not just some of it, or this person is good at that and others aren’t. If we don’t get something, they know it and they stop, back up or whatever it takes to make sure we get the time and chance to really know it before we just go on.

    In school, I feel like we are just going on all the time whether we get it or not. I mean, where do you go if you know you didn’t get what was covered? You can try to ask your parents, but lots of times they don’t know it either, or they are busy. Friends sometimes might help you but not too often. Really, sometimes you don’t understand that adults will say, “Just ask for help,” like it is there for you when it really isn’t. Or a teacher might meet with you a couple of times, but they aren’t going to take too much time and you might not know what you aren’t getting, or they think you need this or that and you don’t speak up to say, “No, I get this but I don’t get that.” I don’t know, it just doesn’t work out to get help very much. Then sometimes, it’s like you don’t want the teacher and everybody to know you need help.

 

Pioneer mentoring pair

Mentor & mentee at Pioneer High

 

Adults will say, “Just ask for help,” like it is there for you when it really isn’t.

- Summer algebra student

These teachers know about us and our lives. They are closer to our age. I mean, they understand what we are dealing with, and I think they know more about what we are learning or how we learn. They relate to us. They set us straight, too, like: you better take control of your life, no one else is going to. Or they’ll say you know you can learn all of this, so it’s up to you to try and get it, or not. They really believe we all can learn all of this, not just some of it, or this person is good at that and others aren’t. If we don’t get something, they know it and they stop, back up or whatever it takes to make sure we get the time and chance to really know it before we just go on.

    In school, I feel like we are just going on all the time whether we get it or not. I mean, where do you go if you know you didn’t get what was covered? You can try to ask your parents, but lots of times they don’t know it either, or they are busy. Friends sometimes might help you but not too often. Really, sometimes you don’t understand that adults will say, “Just ask for help,” like it is there for you when it really isn’t. Or a teacher might meet with you a couple of times, but they aren’t going to take too much time and you might not know what you aren’t getting, or they think you need this or that and you don’t speak up to say, “No, I get this but I don’t get that.” I don’t know, it just doesn’t work out to get help very much. Then sometimes, it’s like you don’t want the teacher and everybody to know you need help.


I like knowing what I really know.

- Summer algebra student

I didn’t get the overall thing of math. I like looking at what we are learning, and what we have covered, and what we just might not get to. I couldn’t have told you things about math before, like I can tell you [now] I’m working on decimals, fractions, percentages, and absolute values. I would’ve said, “I’m just working on math” and wouldn’t have known what I’m working on. I like knowing what I really know, too. Am I making sense to you? Like, do you know what you know about math?

 

dissecting a cow eye

Eye dissection at
Bryant Community Center

 

I like it that I can stop and really learn something before going on.

- Summer algebra student

This program has really helped me, even more than I thought it could. I like the small group and being able to get one-on-one help just about anytime any of us need it. And if we don’t understand something, you don’t feel dumb or stupid. It’s like they just help you slow down, go back, and do it again until you can really get it. I like it that I can stop and really learn something before going on to something else.

I think the field trips have been okay. I can see how different people and jobs use math. I really liked Kathy and learning about interior design. She really loves her work and said that’s important, to really like what you do.


I feel like I’m running on a track and don’t know how far I have to go or what my time is.

- Summer algebra student

I wanted to do this program because I know that I need help. Math is hard for me. I try really hard but I feel like I never really get the things going on, in the book or class. And then we go on to something different. It’s like I feel when I’m running on a track and I don’t know how far I have to go to finish the race or what my time is. I know I have to take all these math classes and that scares me a little. I guess I just hope I can figure out more about math so I can do better in school. Sometimes I look around and wonder if anybody else is thinking like me. I think they are but none of us say so.


Before I came in here I didn’t know how far behind I was!

- Summer algebra student

We just have to do something different in school. It just isn’t working, and it’s not just a few kids that aren’t doing all right. I can’t believe how you guys did this for us, and for free. Everyone here really cares about us. It’s kind of sad, but you don’t feel like that too much in school. Maybe it’s too big or something, I don’t know, but I can feel lost just about every day. I can’t believe how far back I had to go to start catching up in math. The pathetic thing is, before I came in here I didn’t know how far behind I was! And I don’t feel dumb about it. It’s skills, you know, and I don’t think I ever really got them before.


I quit trying to get help. This summer, it’s different.

- Summer algebra student

When I try to get help, it’s like nobody can help me. So I quit trying to get help. This summer, it’s different When I need help, I can get it. I think these teachers are, well, different. They know how we think and they know how to break things down so we can get it. I really like it, the way they are showing us how to do things.


I’m thinking that maybe I better ask my teachers to let me sit up front so I don’t have so many distractions.

- Summer algebra student

Because I’m so visual, it’s like I’m seeing and taking in things all around me all the time. I guess you can say I can get distracted, like if I’m sitting in the back of a class and I’m seeing all these kids in front of me and what they are doing and things like that. Then, I’m not watching the teacher, you know, and listening and focusing. I’m thinking that even when we have assigned seats, maybe I better ask my teachers to let me sit up front so I don’t have so many distractions. That’s something I’m learning about me this summer, I guess.

 

Ayiesha, Debra & Kiesa - summer algebra

Ayiesha, Debra & Kiesa
- summer algebra

 

We aren’t rushing through everything.

- Summer algebra student

I don’t do very well with lectures, you know? But if I can see things, it helps me learn it. I like it how we are explaining things this summer—like, step by step. Then they let us do it, step by step. Then if we need help, we just say so, and they help walk me through it, maybe in a little different way that will make sense to me. Then I like to try another problem kind of like the ones we worked on. Later, I like to see if I can still get it and do it. We aren’t rushing through everything.


You are helping us see why we need math.

- Summer algebra student

I think it is really good that you are trying to take us out to learn about businesses and jobs. I don’t think any of us really know what is out there. I mean, maybe we know what our moms and dads do—even some of us don’t know much about them, either. And I think it is really good that you are helping us see the why—I mean why we need math. On the Kroger trip, that was really hard! It really got me thinking, though. Don’t you just shop to pick things up? Do you think about comparing unit costs or things like that? It was hard!


 

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