CSU Voices and Views

Adding to the Mathematics Toolbox

By Vicente Washington
Educator, Inglewood Unified School District
Master’s Program Student, CSU Dominguez Hills

Vicente Washington stands in front of the math projects completed by students of the CSU Summer Algebra Institute at Glory Christian Fellowship International

Vicente Washington stands in front of the math projects completed by students of the CSU Summer Algebra Institute at Glory Christian Fellowship International

With the right tools, anyone can succeed at math. 

Unfortunately, it took me decades to learn this lesson.  I was educated in an urban Philadelphia school district in the old model of “drill, drill, drill.”  My teachers wanted me to get the right answer.  Understanding why was secondary.

Even though I enjoyed math, I often hit a wall in applying math as a student at the United States Naval Academy and later in my career as a naval officer.  Sometimes I would get discouraged and think, “Am I thick-headed?  Why is this so difficult?”

I knew how to drill and memorize but was not taught to work a problem by applying concepts.  I did not have a robust mathematics toolbox.  Finally, as I prepared to start my career as a math teacher, it became apparent that the lack of those tools was the reason why I kept hitting that wall.

I was inspired to give students the toolbox they need to be successful by focusing on the concepts of mathematic problem solving.  I don’t sweat it when students get the wrong answer.  Ultimately, it is about the big picture of understanding how to learn.

The CSU Summer Algebra Institute is the perfect opportunity to add tools to the toolbox.  I’ve spent five years with the institute at Glory Christian Fellowship International.  In that time, countless students have gone from “hating math” to excelling in math.  Many even go so far as to say math is now their favorite subject.

It is all about changing their belief system.  Students come into the program believing they are bad at math, that they are stupid, and that they do not have what it takes.  My goal is to give every student a taste of success.  There is no stigma of grades or failure, only encouragement and learning. 

When students leave the program, they leave knowing they have the tools to succeed.

Note: The Summer Algebra Institutes are part of the CSU African American Initiative, a partnership of the university and churches focused on promoting college readiness.  Vicente is the program coordinator of the CSU Summer Algebra Institute at Glory Christian Fellowship International.  He is an educator in the Inglewood Unified School District, where he teaches mathematics courses including algebra, calculus and physics.  Vicente is also completing his master’s degrees in mathematics teaching and educational administration at CSU Dominguez Hills.

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1 Comment to “Adding to the Mathematics Toolbox”

  1. Ama Mundi, Student  Says:

    Indeed Math is a beautiful subject to learn and to play with. There is limitless opportunities in one’s mind for tossing mathematical ideas and figuring out solutions to problems from various perspectives. There is a joy in realizing that the process of thinking in math is just as rewarding as the solution itself, if not more rewarding.

    The commitment to Math Teacher transformation at the CSUDH Math Department Graduate School MAT program,has changed my life as a professional teacher and energized my Math classroom.

    Math will never again be that one right answer traditional approach to problem solving. Today, Teacher flexibility amd student freedom to explore math ideas makes learning fun and discovery exciting. My students are happy to struggle with math because their errors are only opportunities for further learning. A few students believe that it is very demanding to do critical thinking but the support they receive in their cooperative learning groups is paying off for the better. My students are beginning to realize that math is everywhere in our daily lives, and all around us in our environment. Math Textbooks contain only a fraction of the beauty of the math world.

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