4RealMath is an enrichment project for middle school students developed to provide an innovative, interactive approach to overcome the challenges underrepresented students face with math. Many middle school students lack preparation in rational numbers and operations involving fractions and decimals. The 4 Real Math curriculum is based on two key concepts supported by current research and experience: 1) underrepresented students learn best when they can connect what they learn to what they already know about the real world, and 2) middle school represents a critical time in preparation for high school and college work. Related to concept 2, we can identify and address specific points where inadequate preparation in middle school inhibits students from mastering higher levels. The 4 Real math curriculum concentrates on core concepts and basic skills. It uses repetition and a variety of strategies to address the challenges underrepresented students face. In addition to more traditional methods of instruction, familiar experiences such as basketball, bowling, storytelling and other interactive activities are used to engage students to help them understand certain math concepts. For example, the engineers/mathematicians on the development team have created exercises that allow students to learn math and develop critical thinking skills through actual construction of airplane models. Also, to build confidence, the 4 Real Math curriculum uses basketball exercises to expose students to algebraic concepts and give them a sense of pride that they can conquer math. These exercises use concrete and fun, real world examples to reinforce geometry and algebra lessons.
Launching Small Group Tutorials or Math Labs in Middle School
We plan to expand our 4 Real Math programming in Woodlawn utilizing the small group settings approach, commonly known as math lab. Math lab is an intensive tutoring program delivered in small group settings. Instruction can be personalized to meet the needs of each student since the ratio of students to tutor is typically 2:1. We plan to implement small group tutorials commonly known as math labs on Chicago's south side and expand to other urban cities. Studies conducted by the University of Chicago have shown that intensive, individualized instruction can generate large gains in academic outcomes in a short period of time, even among students who are several years behind grade level in math. Some students gain a year or two in math in one year of tutoring. (See the Hamilton Project Brookings, Improving Academic Outcomes for Disadvantaged Students: Scaling Up Individualized Tutorials 2015). The math lab model is currently being used in high schools and has been proven to close the white/black gap by as much as one-third. The need to scale math labs up throughout the country and in middle schools was the main takeaways of the Hamilton Project research proposal. Students in the high school math labs also improved their performance in non-math courses and reduced the number of incidences of suspension and arrest. With the fall off in math intensifying in middle school and with many students entering high school several levels below grade level in math, it makes sense to implement middle school math labs in Chicago as soon as feasible. Currently there are no math labs in any middle school in Chicago.
4RealMath was started by three siblings who discovered that their hometown school district in Illinois was one of the lowest performing in math in the state of Illinois. Shocked and embarrassed, they decided to do something about it. Two of the siblings who were engineers had created STEM projects for underrepresented students in Los Angeles. After collaborating with their hometown school district in adapting their STEM projects, the siblings launched 4RealMath at their former middle school on the day that Barack Obama was first sworn in as the 44th president of the United States. Since then, 4RealMath has expanded to other states including Wisconsin and California.