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Math Labs Add Up

Saturday, April 8, 2017
Math coach Jeff Newman teaches a course on financial literacy to the seventh grade.

One by one, math coach Jeff Newman pulls the eighth graders into the hallway to share their individual scores with them.  This is their first meeting since the rigorous MathCounts competition. 

His discretion proves unnecessary as each student returns to the classroom and blurts out their score to the rest of the group. They are competitive, but also supportive of each other.

When Arielle and Caden step back in, they both share the highest individual scores that any Harlem Academy students have ever achieved on the “Sprint” portion of the examination. On average, Harlem Academy scores have increased from the previous year, in many cases, substantially.

The success comes as no surprise to Newman.  He has volunteered for six years with Harlem Academy students, providing supplemental math instruction to keep them challenged.  A retired actuary, he holds a math lab one full day per week for the top students from each middle school grade to instruct them on advanced concepts.

If you’re good in math,” says Newman, “traditional concepts, even advanced ones, can get stale quickly. Fast-paced students need to have their horizons expanded. In my classes, I always explain that most students routinely respond incorrectly to the problems posed. They get used to struggling with adversity in the math realm. It encourages them to think more critically about problems.”

“With math especially,” explains Middle School Director Leah Weintraub, “Harlem Academy provides differentiated instruction to push everyone. Students who master math concepts get to be challenged beyond standard curriculum, while other students get more time to review.

Newman’s fifth-grade class focuses on unusual mathematical problem solving while the sixth-grade class focuses on advanced probability theory. “If you know your odds, you make better decisions,” Newman says with a laugh. “It’s valuable in life, not just for math’s sake.”

Eighth grader Caden solves a logic puzzle, in an exercise to
strengthen critical thinking.

For seventh graders, Newman’s focus shifts to finance, including a comprehensive, ten-week financial literacy course. Eighth graders participate in a stock market simulation, starting with $100,000 to invest. They do their own research and assess risk, buying and selling equities in real time with the stock market. Each week they review the portfolios and compete over performance.

Newman also coaches students in national math contests throughout the year. “These are important because our students get to see their scores relative to their peers. Although they may be the best students at Harlem Academy, they see what their place is among other seventh or eighth graders.  It opens up a whole world for them about what their potential could be.”

The populations Harlem Academy serves are historically underrepresented in the fields of math, science, technology, and engineering.  Harlem Academy inspires them to overcome systemic barriers and pursue careers in these influential fields.

 “I love math and science,” eighth grader Caden shares, still beaming about his recent success at the MathCounts competition.  His classmate Mikaella agrees. She is planning to become an astrophysicist and already has some ideas for her thesis.

Newman is thrilled by his students’ engagement and passion for this work. “That’s my whole reason for being here,” he says. “It’s so rewarding to get these students to stretch the mathematical parts of their brains.”

Special thanks to the Cat MacRae Fund, lead sponsor of Harlem Academy's Singapore math program.

Thank you to The Actuarial Foundation for their ongoing support of our students' math education.