Ep 19. The Calculus Project with Adrian Mims
This transcript was created with speech-to-text software. It was reviewed before posting, but may contain errors. Credit to Jazmin Boisclair.
Ep 19. The Calculus Project with Adrian Mims
[00:00:00] Anna Stokke: Welcome to Chalk and Talk, a podcast about education and math. I'm Anna Stokke, a math professor and your host. You are listening to episode 19 of Chalk and Talk. A quick note that the next episode will be published on November 24th. I am really excited to share this episode with you. I had a fantastic conversation with Dr. Adrian Mims, who is the co-founder and CEO of The Calculus Project, which is a non-profit organization that aims to increase the number of Black, Hispanic, and low-income students taking calculus, starting with support in middle school.
We talked about why he started the Calculus Project, the various components of the program, and its overall impact. We discussed what he calls the quiet crisis in reference to declining math scores and why it's important to turn that around. We discussed the importance of offering math acceleration options for middle school students.We talked about the consequence of students finding themselves in a position where they have to take remedial math in university.
Moreover, Dr. Mims shared some valuable advice for policymakers on how to improve math outcomes for students who have historically been underrepresented in math. Dr. Mims is doing amazing work that's really having a concrete impact, and I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation. I know you're going to love this episode.
Now, without further ado, let's get started.
I am delighted to have Dr. Adrian Mims joining me today from Boston. He is the founder and CEO of The Calculus Project. That is a non-profit organization that works to increase the number of Black, Hispanic, and low-income students enrolled in high school calculus. AP Calculus and AP Statistics. He has a Bachelor of Science in math, and he has two master's degrees, a Master of Arts in teaching math and a Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study in educational leadership and he has a Doctor of Education specializing in educational leadership and administration.
He has received several well-deserved awards for his work, including the Asa G. Hilliard Models of Success Award for his commitment to closing the achievement gap for African Americans in mathematics, the Dr. Carlene Riccelli Assembly Leadership Award, the Amtrak Pioneer Award, and the Luminary Award from the 1954 project. The Calculus Project has also received grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and I am really looking forward to hearing more about his work today. Welcome, Dr. Mims. Welcome to my podcast.
[00:03:09] Adrian Mims: Thank you. It's great to be here. Thanks for having me.
[00:03:13] Anna Stokke: Before we get into your work with The Calculus Project, I thought we'd start a bit with your background. So can you tell us about your background, and in particular, did you always like math?
[00:03:23] Adrian Mims: Yeah, I, pretty much always liked math. I had at one time I had a love-hate relationship with it because at times it was a little bit tough. I will say that I realized that I had a talent for math in the sixth grade with my math teacher at the time, his name was Mr. Dogen, and the way he ran his classes, he would teach a little bit, but most of the time he just gave you a bunch of math worksheets to complete.
And so I'm very competitive. And so I'm always walking around the room, looking to see if anyone was ahead of me in completing these worksheets, so I was very dogged and, you know, trying to make sure that I stayed at least five or six worksheets ahead. And then, when I go to high school, I struggled a little bit in seventh-grade math.
I had a good teacher. She was very patient and she worked with me. And then. eighth grade was a little bit easy, it was pre-algebra then ninth grade, I took algebra, and it was hard. You know, I struggled, but I was never someone who feared math or hated it. But, you know, I learned a lot of good lessons along the way, and a lot of those lessons I ended up learning in college. But yeah, I always, really had an appreciation for math.
[00:04:50] Anna Stokke: So, did you take calculus in high school?
[00:04:53] Adrian Mims: No, which is so cool because I'm the founder and CEO of The Calculus Project. It's kind of like a cruel joke. You know, I didn't take it, but I'm making other kids take it.
[00:05:04] Anna Stokke: So you went to a university. So what was first-year university like?
[00:05:10] Adrian Mims: Yeah, at the University of South Carolina, I decided I was going to major in electrical engineering. And, my first year was decent. It was fine. My chemistry class was very hard. The University of South Carolina is a large university. My chemistry class had over 200 students. And yeah, it was, it was tough learning in, in an auditorium.
So I ended up dropping chemistry, and I took it back home,at a technical school during the summer, but I really hit the wall, I think my sophomore year, and part of that was, I'm the first generation in my family going to college and I worked two jobs to support myself.
So I spent a lot of time working, but I also realized my sophomore year that I didn't know how to study. So, I mean, imagine making it to college, you've always, you know, been a pretty decent student in high school, but then you realize that something's not clicking, and you don't know how to study. So, that was a pivotal moment for me.
And, again, I had to figure things out very quickly. Like “How do I pull this together?” And start, you know, doing well in these classes and figuring out how I learned best.
[00:06:27] Anna Stokke: Well, at least for me, a lot of my first-year students don't know how to study. And I actually have to spend a fair bit of time on that, explaining to them the best ways to learn math. And I think sometimes we assume that the students know how to study, but they actually don't. So we'll come back to that, a bit later.
Now fast forward a bit. So you finished university. You got a lot of education after that, and a Ph.D. and you decided to start The Calculus Project. So why did you do that? What led you to starting The Calculus Project?
[00:07:04] Adrian Mims: Yeah. I always say The Calculus Project is personal, and it came together for me in an odd way. So I was, at the time I was the Dean of Students at Brookline High School. I decided to go back to school and get my doctorate. I've always been in the classroom teaching. And so I was looking at the kids in my class.
And then I started looking at the students who were taking AP Calculus, and there were no Black students in AP Calculus. So I've found that intriguing. And so when I decided to, you know, when I got accepted to graduate school into this doctoral program at Boston College, I talked it over with my dissertation chair, and I decided that I wanted to do my dissertation on the achievement gap in mathematics. So he told me immediately, he said, “That's too wide. You're going to have to really narrow it down.”
And so what I did, I narrowed it down to a course, which is a freshman honours course called geometry honours. And the reason why I focus on that course is because it's the first math course in the sequence that leads to Calculus, but also by the second quarter of the school year, we would lose 60 to 70 percent of those students who identified as Black or African American to geometry standards.
So they would withdraw from the geometry honors and enroll in a lower-level math course. So I started there. And, based on the findings, that's how The Calculus Project emerged.
[00:08:48] Anna Stokke: And when did you start The Calculus Project?
[00:08:52] Adrian Mims: The Calculus Project started in 2009.
[00:08:55] Anna Stokke: In how many states is this running?
[00:08:58] Adrian Mims: It's in Florida, in Orange County Public Schools, which is Orlando. It's in Fort Worth, Texas, at Young Women's Leadership Academy and is in Massachusetts, where we have, the bulk of the districts are in Massachusetts.
[00:09:14] Anna Stokke: Okay. So can you tell us a bit about how it runs? What grades does it start at? How do students get into the program? That sort of thing.
[00:09:24] Adrian Mims: Yeah, so, The Calculus Project starts with, rising seventh and or eighth-grade students. And so the idea is that students are taking algebra in the eighth grade. However, in Orlando, which is Orange County Public Schools, when I started working there in 2014, the idea was we were going to teach seventh graders algebra so that that would put them on a trajectory to taking AP Calculus BC.
So what we do is, once we identify what grade we're going to start with, we basically identify the students, and we use data to decide which students could benefit the most from the program. And so we draft a letter, a very compelling letter, that took several years to perfect, and send that letter out to the parents, and invite them in for an orientation meeting so that we can explain to them why it's important for their children to be proficient, at least, you know, in mathematics and why it's good for them to be on a trajectory to taking calculus.
So once we have the parents come in for the orientation meetings and we sell them on the idea, then we enroll their children, and then we start with making sure that the work that they do during the summer is a minimum of 60 hours.
We recruit the teachers, we train the teachers, we develop the math curriculum for the summer, and put together the calendar of events because it's not just learning math throughout the summer. Students have guest speakers, they watch movies from our prior curriculum, there's a curriculum that accompanies that, students go on field trips.
So there's a nice mix of seat time, coupled with project-based learning opportunities and field trips, etc. And so, again, as I said before, the students, so their minimum of 60 hours, and at the end of the summer program, we always celebrate their success and their achievement by having a certificate, of completion ceremony where students are giving speeches and we invite their parents.
So that's the first stage. But during the summer, we also teach students how to work collaboratively in groups as well. I'll pause there because there are like four other components to the work, but this isn’t extremely comprehensive.
[00:11:59] Anna Stokke: So it starts in around grade seven or eight, one or the other, depending on the situation, okay. Let's just say grade eight. So they would take the program in the summer, and so there's a math component to it and then several other components. so what's the math that they're learning?
Is it math that is to help them for the next year, or is it from the previous year? Are you catching up on gaps? What kinds of things are they learning?
[00:12:26] Adrian Mims: Yeah, that's a good question. We're pre-teaching them the math that they'll see next year. So, it's not a remedial, remediation program. It's an acceleration program. And so, most of the schools here, you know, well, actually, all of the schools that we work with work on a 36-week school calendar. So, the first quarter is nine weeks.
So we look at the content that students cover, normally for the first nine weeks. And we try to cover as many of those most challenging topics as possible to give students confidence and a solid foundation so that when they start the school year, they're not seeing any new content. They're actually reviewing content that they learned during the summer.
And so just to give you an example, a lot of students, even as seniors, they struggle with fractions. So what we do with rising, I see you look on your face. I mean, it's, it's huge. but what we do instead of remediating students and teaching, you know, multiple days on how to perform operations with fractions, if these are rising eighth graders, one of the things that we're teaching them, we're teaching them to solve one-step, two-step, multiple-step equations.
So what we do, we embed fractions into those equations. So, while they're learning how to solve multiple-step equations with fractions, they're also learning how to perform operations with fractions.
[00:14:04] Anna Stokke: So you're pre-teaching the material for the next year. That is really smart because they go and now they, they feel like they have a bit of a leg up, right? So they feel really confident when they're in the class that, that following year. That makes a lot of sense. so you do this every summer throughout their high school career, right? Until they get up to AP Calc.
[00:14:28] Adrian Mims: Every single summer, but in addition to pre-teaching them the math, we also teach them how to work collaboratively in groups. And we build community with these students. And the reason why is because we want them to understand that math is a collaborative learning effort, you know, and so too often, students would try to learn math in isolation.
And so if you're familiar with the work of Uri Treisman, when he was at the University of California, Berkeley, he did a lot of research around students studying in isolation, in particular, students of colour. And so what we're doing, we're getting students while they're in middle school and helping them understand the power of learning collaboratively in groups.
And so during the summer, we'll build in those communities in addition to teaching them the math and then showing them how the math is applied in the real world through field trips and guest speakers coming in sharing what they do.
[00:15:29] Anna Stokke: So there's a, a sort of community feel to it. They're being taught stuff by the teachers and then they're working together on problems. And I would imagine it's not that easy to convince kids at that grade level to actually do 60 hours of a math program in the summer is just, you know, just a conjecture, but that's what I would guess.
And so I'm guessing that that helps with that too because then they have friends with similar interests and they're working together on the math and it, it becomes something that they're all doing together. Is that right?
[00:16:05] Adrian Mims: Yeah, I'll tell you the key is building the calendar for the summer. So we can have like a three-week session. Let's just say nine o'clock until one or nine o'clock until two. The idea is, is that, in addition to the students having seat time to learn the math, okay, let's make sure that we have some fun activities that require them to problem solve, you know, get out of their seat, present problems, play some games, field trips, they watch some documentaries and movies because the other thing that's happening during the summer in addition to them learning the math, we're teaching them about STEM professionals of colour, people who look like them and may share their same language and culture.
And so there's a lot of research around how that can help students build a stronger math and science identity. So I'll give you an example, you know, a lot of people don't know who Dr Kizzmekia Corbett is, but, she is, a researcher, scientist, African African-American woman who worked for Moderna and helped to develop the COVID vaccine. And so, a lot of people don't know that, but imagine for, you know, young girls out there to see this woman and know her story, how did she overcome some of the challenges and look at what she's done?
You know, what she's done is historical. but it's also important for not only girls to know about her, but young boys, but also White students, Asian students, just so that they can see that contributions to STEM come from everywhere. Gender, people of different identities, ethnicities have all contributed to STEM.
And that's something that they don't get during the school year. So it allows them to see themselves in the curriculum. And so it, it sort of makes the curriculum more engaging and more fun when you're learning about these people. The other part to this, too is, is that if you think about the spread of COVID, it was exponential growth, right?
So imagine, you know, helping students learn about exponential growth and coming up with some really cool project-based math problems where they're coming up with the equation of the exponential line. And then they're also learning about Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett. So there are ways that we can draw students in and still make sure that they're learning the important math standards. So that's the work that we do.
[00:18:54] Anna Stokke: It sounds great. And so how about, impact? Do you have any numbers, like how many students has the program impacted and, retention, that sort of thing?
[00:19:08] Adrian Mims: Yeah, so that's one of the things that we've been working on. We know that we have impacted approximately 10, 000 students since 2009, and that includes, you know, the school in Texas and Orange County public schools, which is Orlando. That's the ninth-largest school district in the country. And then looking at the schools where the program is being implemented in Massachusetts, you're looking at over 100 middle and high schools. And so students, it's interesting with the retention and the engagement, you're probably not familiar with a store called Costco, or they call them, they, we have a super Walmart here in the United States.
[00:19:52] Anna Stokke: I am very familiar with Costco. yes.
[00:19:55] Adrian Mims: Well, So if you know about Costco, you can go to Costco and get a hearing aid, you can get tires for your car, and you can get food for your cookout. All in one building, right?
[00:20:07] Anna Stokke: Provided you have a membership.
[00:20:10] Adrian Mims: Right? The Calculus Project is almost like Costco because in the sense that students when they start as rising seventh or eighth graders, they may do the summer component, maybe two or three summers, and then they feel like, “You know what? I'm confident. I got this now. I, you know, I don't, I don't think I necessarily need the summer pre-teaching,” because some students, for example, they might be stronger in algebra than geometry. So once they do that geometry honours preview course during the summer, they feel like, “Hey, I think I got this.”
Well, even though they may not do any of the pre-teaching courses during the summer, there's still Calculus Project students because they participate in the other components and the other components are grouping students in cohorts. So they may not have attended the program during the summer, but if you did participate in earlier summers, we're going to group you in the same honour and advanced-level math courses with other Calculus Project students.
So that's going to happen regardless. The other component is the academic center, where students can go either during school or after school or before school and get additional help. So if you were to walk into the academic center, you'd see a bunch of tables. You see maybe one or two math teachers walking around, you wouldn't see one-to-one tutoring, but what you would see is teachers facilitating group learning.
So there'd be students working together to complete homework assignments, making corrections on quizzes or tests or studying for quizzes or tests or working on math projects. So, students, that's another opportunity for them to engage in the program.
And the other, component is the peer teaching component. And that wasn't necessarily an original component. It really evolved organically because what we noticed was, “Wow. Some of these kids, they're really, really good at math, and they're very strong.” So we hired them to learn math and to teach math to the younger students working with the summer teachers.
And so that had a huge impact. We surveyed the peer teachers, and what they shared with us is, is that because they learned and made, created lesson plans with the teachers and taught the younger students, it made them stronger mathematicians. For the younger students, they see someone who is two or three years older, who may look like them, share the same language and culture, and then they find out they're getting paid to be good at math.
It was a source of inspiration for them. So we know how important it is for students to feel, you know, a sense of belonging and for them to have teachers who look like them. Well, it's just as powerful for them to have peer teachers who look like them as well. So they're great role models for the kids, and it's a great way to help us retain students.
The last thing I just want to say is that one of the biggest problems with summer programming is that if you're targeting students who are, let's just say, middle-class to low-income students when the summer comes around, and they become old enough to work, they want to work to supplement their family's income.
Rich kids don't have to worry about that, right? So they're able to do whatever they want to do during the summer. So we don't want students to have to choose between working to support their family during the summer or doing The Calculus Project. We want them to have both. You can work, you can make money, and you can continue to deepen your knowledge in mathematics.
[00:24:12] Anna Stokke: I think that's great. And, as a lot of us know, when you teach someone something, then you really get it, right? it really helps to just sort of solidify the knowledge that you've gained. We talked about study skills, and you mentioned that when you went to university, you found out, “Oh, I don't actually have great study skills.” And I would say that's, pretty common, at least where, I teach. I teach at a liberal arts university in Canada, and I frequently teach first-year calculus. And I'd say that's fairly common. So do you teach the student's study skills?
[00:24:52] Adrian Mims: Absolutely, and some of them listen, and some of them don't, you know, it's one of those things.
[00:24:57] Anna Stokke: Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah.
[00:24:59] Adrian Mims: I'll give you an example. I mean, we give them like a survival kit of things to do. So one of the things we tell students is, whenever you take an assessment, the first thing that you should do is make corrections on the problems that you miss.
That takes a lot of structure and discipline. And so sometimes students allow all of their quizzes and tests to pile up, and they haven't made any of the corrections on the problems that they missed. Well, chances are they're going to see those same problems again, and they're going to get them wrong if they don't figure out what they got wrong the first time.
So we also want students to build and develop agency and efficacy. And our, the phrase that we use to define that is we want you to own your learning. So what does owning your learning look like? Well, owning your learning looks like understanding and knowing when your teacher is available to meet and meeting with your professor or teacher during his or her office hours.
Again, making the corrections on the quizzes of the tests, developing, study groups. That's very foreign to a lot of students because when you break into groups, if you're not careful, you're not going to get anything done. So you have to have norms and rules of engagement. How are you going to work together?
Earlier, I mentioned Uri Treisman's work at University of California, Berkeley. The highest performing group of students during his time there were students who identified as Asian American. And he followed those students, and what he learned was that those students were together all the time. They ate together, they hung out together, they did math problems together.
So, if it was four or five of them, each one of them would be working on five math problems, and they'd share these problems out. And so they ended up working more efficiently. They were able to do more math problems compared to a student working in isolation. And so that's what we're looking to recreate with The Calculus Project.
Getting students early, developing these habits of forming these effective study groups and then when they go off to college, it's not something that they have to, you know, wrestle or think about, it's almost instinctive for those students to form the relationships with students, fellow, fellow students in the classroom and relationships with the professors and develop these study groups.
[00:27:41] Anna Stokke: Something I've talked a lot on the podcast with people about learning how to learn is actually a really important thing, but I'm actually really curious about some of the work you were mentioning about having a group of students who work together, and they support each other essentially, right? Who was the author again?
[00:28:03] Adrian Mims: Uri Treisman.
[00:28:04] Anna Stokke: I'll even put some of that up on the resource page because people listening to the podcast might want to look into that.
[00:28:10] Adrian Mims: I cited Uri Treisman, a lot in my dissertation, and actually, I had never heard of Uri Treisman until I, you know, started writing my dissertation. You know, when you are writing your doctorate, you have five chapters, usually, the first chapter is the introduction, and the second chapter is the lit review.
So that's where you just, you know, exhaust all of your time and energy reading as many books and as many articles as you can about your particular topic. And so I was totally blown away by Uri's work. And so it became a major component of The Calculus Project. So I looked at his work and the work of other people to bring the other components together. So that's why when I describe The Calculus Project and its components, I make sure that I specify that all of the components are anchored by research.
[00:29:15] Anna Stokke: It's a research-based program that's having a very large impact. What sort of advice would you give to a student about how to succeed in a university math class or a calculus class?
[00:29:27] Adrian Mims: Well, the first thing I would say is identify your resources. And so, not even just identify your resources, use them because what we tell students before they graduate from high school and go off to college is that when you first go to college, get to know your college counsellor. When you go into your classrooms, make sure that you know your professors and get his or her office hours and regularly stop in and meet with your professor.
And for me, I, again, went to a very large university, and I was in a calculus course with 200 students. And so what would happen, you'd go in for your lecture, and then you'd go into these smaller classes that were taught by graduate students. So, in addition to having access to a professor, I had access to a graduate student who taught the smaller classes, but also colleges usually have tutoring centers and writing centers.
And so a lot of students don't utilize those for various reasons. I will say that one reason I've noticed that a lot of students don't go to some of the tutoring centers is that there's somewhat of a language challenge or barrier because a lot of the graduate students or the students who work in the tutoring center, English is their second language.
And so some of the students, where English is their first language, find it very, very difficult to follow and understand what these tutors are talking about when they're describing the math problem. So some of them use it as an excuse, and they get frustrated, and they just say, “I'm not going because I can't really understand, you know, what the tutors are saying.”
But, you know, that's, that would be my advice. and also the form study groups too. And I tell students if you're the smartest person in the group, you're in the wrong group.
[00:31:41] Anna Stokke: That's some, great advice I think a lot of times too, students don't go for help because they're intimidated or they feel like they're going to look stupid. And, I always just say, you know, like the person's there to help you. They're there to help you and, you don't. I have to look smart when you ask a question, that's the whole point of asking the question, you're there to get the help.
[00:32:01] Adrian Mims: I think sometimes what gets in the way too with male students, just like a lot of men don't like to stop and ask for directions, even though you don't necessarily have to stop and ask for directions anymore because you got Google maps. You know that old saying, you know, “Why don't you stop,” you know, the wife or say to the husband, “Why don't you stop and ask for directions?”
He's like, “No, I'll figure it out.” I think, you know, it's something with, boys that I've noticed more so than with girls. And this is not research, this is just, you know, my own personal observation. I think that it's a lot harder for boys to ask for help and to be vulnerable and say, “I don't know.”
And so, we try to work with students and help them to understand and develop that mindset so that they know asking for help isn't a sign of weakness, it's actually a sign of strength. So, I look at the work that we do, not only as teaching students math, but also working with them in terms of their mindset and, you know, their beliefs.
[00:33:13] Anna Stokke: You mentioned that the idea is for students to start algebra in either Grade 7 or Grade 8, so how important is it do you think for students to be able to accelerate, to have access to algebra in eighth grade because, you know, we're hearing a lot of talk about this. And I had Brian Conrad on and I had Jelani Nelson, that's how I heard about your work. You know, it's quite a controversial topic, particularly in California, and it's spreading to other states that sometimes people are saying that maybe we shouldn't allow students to accelerate, or have algebra in eighth grade. But do you think it's fairly important?
[00:33:52] Adrian Mims: Well, I know it's important and what I point to are the data. I mean, look at how the United States is slipping, right? In terms of when you look at the NAEP scores, right? The National Assessment of Educational Progress. We're, we're the most powerful nation on the planet. We're extremely technologically advanced. We have some of the colleges and universities. I'm sure Canada, they have good colleges and universities too.
[00:34:22] Anna Stokke: Yeah, we do, we do.
[00:34:24] Adrian Mims: I know you do. We have some good ones here too. But, you know, I call what's happening in education in the United States the quiet crisis, because we tend to be reactive and not proactive when it comes to dealing with major issues.
And right now, I think a lot of people are asleep at the wheel, and they're not paying attention to certain trends. One thing to pay attention to is how, you know, students’ performance on math, on the NAEP, how that's been slipping. The other thing to point out is how many teachers are leaving the profession.
There's, there's not a lot of research around looking at schools and understanding how many students are being taught by permanent substitute teachers, and permanent substitute teachers aren't necessarily well equipped, I'm not saying all of them, but I'm saying they're permanent substitute teachers and that they're filling in place of teachers who are supposed to be highly qualified.
The other thing that's happening is, is that some States, they don't pay enough for teachers to come and work in these classrooms. And in particular, if you're a math or science teacher, you can make two or three times the amount of money in the private sector. So you end up having a situation where there's some states in the United States that, because they can't find teachers, they're lowering the standards and the qualifications to become a teacher. So that's the reason why I call it the quiet crisis because it's happening very quietly and slowly. there are a lot of people who are paying attention to it and sometimes, if you think about it, there was an article, a report written called A Nation at Risk. I think it was published in 1983.
There've been subsequent reports written about how it's a national security crisis, you know, in the United States when we, you know, we're slipping in terms of students' performance in math. But we're not treating it as if it's a national security crisis. And, you know, if you've been watching the history of the United States, we've been able to, you know, find enough money to fight two wars at the same time.
And the money's there, but we got to have the right leadership and the right focus on some really good solutions to improve math education, and the last thing I just want to say is I'm not one of those types of people who believe that you just got to throw money at a problem and it's automatically solved. I mean, we have evidence that that doesn't work, and if you don't believe me, ask Mark Zuckerberg when he gave 100 million dollars to Newark Public Schools and Newark Public Schools were still and receivership for about 23 years for the state. We gotta have leadership, good leadership, and we gotta have a firm strategy, to change the numbers.
[00:37:44] Anna Stokke: I believe you because a few years ago, the CBC did a whole story on this and some of the provinces that were spending the most per student on education were performing the worst. The money has to be spent in an effective way. Just throwing money at a problem isn't necessarily going to fix the problem.
[00:38:07] Adrian Mims: Yeah, no, you're, you're absolutely right. I mean, surprisingly, there are two things that I see in a lot of districts. One, a lot of districts and the leadership, really aren't experts at understanding their budget. And how to get the most out of their budget in terms of allocating funds. The second thing is data, you know, a lot of districts, especially large districts, they hire people to be in charge of the data, but in a lot of those positions, their role is to produce reports. So they're not necessarily data scientists or whatever. They're just people who know how to codify the data and pull it together in a report.
But what's interesting is, is that there are a lot of people who work in schools who don't know how to, you know, disseminate and understand the data now that it's been codified and they don't understand the limitations of the data. So those two issues can be very problematic in a district in terms of if you're trying to make data-informed decisions and those data-informed decisions are tied into the budget.
[00:39:30] Anna Stokke: So back to calculus. Do you think it's important for students to take AP Calculus in high school?
[00:39:37] Adrian Mims: Absolutely, to be honest, some students may not be prepared or ready to take AP Calculus, and I totally get that. I think one problem that I see in districts, especially after the Common Core standards, is that, when the Common Core standards were, were passed, a lot of different math department heads interpreted the standards in their own way, their own perspective.
And what happened, as a result, is a lot of districts struggled with what to teach. How in-depth to go and what the vertical alignment is going to be. And so, because of that, you have a situation where you can have a student who can actually end up in a calculus course, but it not really be a legitimate calculus course.
[00:40:38] Anna Stokke: I took calculus in high school, but it wasn't AP Calculus. It was like a calculus course just offered by my school. I grew up in a small town, and we didn't have AP Calculus at my high school. It wasn't an option. And mostly what I remember is the teacher loved hockey. And so he talked about hockey all the time. So I don't think I learned a lot of calculus in that class, but yeah, that was the extent of my high school calculus course.
[00:41:05] Adrian Mims: Calculus light, you know? Yeah. I will share with you one interesting observation. One of my students, you know, I stay in contact with a lot of The Calculus Project students when they go off to college, they call and ask me for advice. This one, she is at UMass Amherst, and she's a mathematics major. In her freshman year, I was talking to her, and she said, “You know what? I'm so glad I did The Calculus Project. And I'm glad that I took calculus my senior year because I'm noticing that there are three different groups of students in my math class” and she said, “One group of students, the guidance counsellor told them to take pre-calculus, and they took pre-calculus, and they're struggling in this class. There's another group of students who took calculus, but they didn't really have a good calculus teacher. It wasn't like a legit calculus course, and they're struggling.”
And then she said, “And then there's me. I took Calculus. I had a really good Calculus teacher, and it was a challenging rigorous course. And I'm tutoring students in the other two groups that I mentioned.” And I said, “Wow, that's very insightful.” But it was something that I knew or suspected, but to have one of my students to make that observation from her math class, for me, that was very powerful.
[00:42:36] Anna Stokke: Absolutely. So she'd gone through The Calculus Project, she'd taken AP Calculus, and then when she went to university, she was taking university Calculus, which essentially would cover a lot of the same topics, right?
[00:42:50] Adrian Mims: Well, what she did her high school, she took AP Statistics her senior year and high school calculus. So she didn't take AP Calculus because she took AP Statistics. She didn't want to like, you know, overload herself. So she did AP Statistics and that same year took, what they call high school calculus at our school.
[00:43:14] Anna Stokke: When your students take AP Calculus, what do you advise them to do when they go to university? Do you advise them to just go ahead, take Intro Calculus again, or to go into that higher-level calculus course that they probably qualify for because they took AP Calculus?
[00:43:32] Adrian Mims: Yeah. You know, I don't tell them anything. The university will tell them what they have to do, you know, because what happens, you can get a four or perhaps a five and the university, depending on the school, they may say, “You still have to take calculus, regardless of how high your score is.” But what they'll do is they'll say, we're not going to give you calculus credit, but we will allow you to use that score and the credit counts towards an elective course.
[00:44:07] Anna Stokke: Oh, okay. So, like, unallocated math credit.
[00:44:10] Adrian Mims: Exactly. Exactly. Yeah, I mean, I tell people, look, colleges or corporations, it's a business. Why give students a voucher to not have to take a class, you know, there's money in having students enroll in these courses. I don't understand, especially if a student gets a five, on the AP exam, why not let the student, skip and let it count as a calculus credit? Because when you look at the AP exam, the AP exam it's designed by the college board, it’s the intellectual property of the college board. However, the input, that goes into developing the content, the topics and the problems, these are all college professors.
[00:45:03] Anna Stokke: And here, in my province, you get credit for the first calculus course.
[00:45:08] Adrian Mims: Oh, great.
[00:45:09] Anna Stokke: But still, a lot of students will retake it for, I think, kind of the same idea about what you were talking about earlier when you've kind of pre-learned the material, and then you take it, it's actually not a bad position to be in. If you can afford it. If you can actually avoid taking it, that's money saved,
[00:45:29] Adrian Mims: And that's what we tell students, you know, money saved is money earned. I think another important reason why we push students to take calculus or senior year is because if you're taking a legitimate calculus course and then you go off to college, you're not going to place or you should not place into a remedial math course. I know this personally with my son, my daughter is in AP Calculus now. She's in The Calculus Project. My son was also in my program, and I joke around, I tell people, you know, “Proof God has a sense of humour.” My son hates math, right. So. We were constantly battling one another, right. But he didn't understand the importance of taking calculus until he went to Bridgewater State.
That was where he ended up going to college. Before he took his first classes there, he had to take a test called the Accuplacer. The Accuplacer is a test that, if you fail, you have to enroll in a remedial math course. And what a lot of families don't know is if you enroll into a remedial math course, you have to, first of all, pay for that course, and then if you get credit, the credit doesn't necessarily count towards your graduation. So you actually lose precious time that you could have earned credit for a course that would go towards your graduation.
[00:47:04] Anna Stokke: And this is something that really bothers me. A lot of times, we'll have students that get left behind. They don't have a great program, access to a great program like yours. They get left behind in math. It's really cumulative. Then they stream into a stream of mathematics that it's not going to be useful in university. They have to take a remedial class, and now they're quite behind. And also, honestly, the success rates on those remedial classes in university are not good.
[00:47:34] Adrian Mims: No, it's very low.
[00:47:36] Anna Stokke: Very low, because it's a lot of material that is packed into a short time. You're taught at the university pace by, oftentimes, universities aren't putting their best instructors in those classes, unfortunately. You know, so it's, it's not a great place to be in.
I really love your program. I love this idea because the idea is to provide extra support so that students can succeed. And that's exactly what we should be aiming for. And so this brings me to another point. So what happens, you know, when students aren't able to get that algebra in eighth grade? So what, what happens? Is there a way for them to get to AP Calculus? Is it much more difficult? How does it work there?
[00:48:22] Adrian Mims: Yeah, I mean, it's still possible. You know, here in the United States, they do something they call doubling up. You'll have a situation where a student will take Algebra in the ninth grade, and then they'll do geometry in the tenth grade, but in addition to doing geometry, they'll do Algebra II in the 10th grade, so they take geometry and Algebra II and then their junior year they take pre-calculus, and then they can take AP Calculus. So, it can still happen, but the only way that it can happen usually is if students double up. And there's been some research around the whole idea of doubling up. I don't like it. I don't recommend it. I had a conversation a few years ago with 25 math teachers at Boston University, and I said, “Okay, raise your hand if you love math,” all 25 teachers raised their hands.
They love math. Great, okay. Raise your hand if you love math so much that when you were in high school, you took two math courses during the same year. Only one teacher raised her hand. And I said, “Wow, you loved math that much that you took two math courses during the same year?”
She said, “No, that's not why I took it. I took it so that I could get ahead.” So how is it that We have math teachers who didn't even take two math courses during the same year? Why are we forcing and telling students that they have to do it to basically mitigate the negative impacts of structural deficiencies in our educational system?
[00:50:09] Anna Stokke: Right.
[00:50:10] Adrian Mims: We're putting it on the backs of students when we don't have to. It's a problem that is, in my opinion, that can be easily solved, and I've worked with districts to solve it. It's just a different way of thinking, and for some people to think differently and to act differently, sometimes there's, there's a lot of tension there, and the change is a little bit too much, too fast for some people.
[00:50:38] Anna Stokke: So your program starts at Grade 8 or Grade 7, as we discussed earlier, and you can't solve all the world's problems, but I worry about K to eight a lot because I worry about the foundation. I think that a lot of students get left behind, particularly when it comes to things like fractions and because it's not going to go that well if you can't work with fractions, how are you going to solve an algebra problem?
And so what do you think about that? I mean, do you think there are a lot of students falling behind in those earlier years, K to eight, that is preventing them from success after that? Preventing them from getting in a place, say, into a place where they could accelerate.
[00:51:26] Adrian Mims: Yeah, I mean, to be honest with you, and people have asked me this, they say, “Why do you start in middle school and you don't start earlier with The Calculus Project?” And I tell them, “I wish I could start earlier. I'd like to start as early as third or fourth grade because that's usually where people say they see that divergence, and they see, you know, students breaking off into these various levels.”
But the reason why I avoided third and fourth grade, first of all, my area of expertise is not really teaching younger kids as middle school on up, but two, it makes the model a lot more expensive to run during the summer because now you have to make sure that the program runs later or that you have extended care for the kids until the parents get off from work.
When you're dealing with middle school kids here, you know, if they're 14 or 15, they can sometimes walk home, ride a bike home or get on public transportation and go home. You can't do that with a student who is, you know, eight or nine years old. But the earlier we start, the better because the gap is a lot smaller and we need to make sure that students are very proficient and they have number sense.
But the other thing that I find disturbing is, is that when I left Brookline in 2013 to expand The Calculus Project nationally, I took some time and I went and visited kindergarten through third-grade classrooms and observed math teachers. And you know what I saw? I saw students, young, these little kids, running around the classroom enjoying math. I saw math on the walls. I saw math on the floors and stuff like that.
Numbers everywhere. Kids were excited about math and I left those elementary schools thinking, “What is happening between elementary school and middle school when I get these kids, that they come to me broken, not believing that they're mathematicians, but also not having the requisite skills that they need to be successful.”
So I think we need to reevaluate and think very deeply about how we can, you know, instill some joy in learning math and make it a lot more fun. I still haven't figured out what's going on, why so many kids are coming in 7th and 8th grade just broken and hating math and fearing it.
[00:54:02] Anna Stokke: There's a lot to work on, but what you're doing is really great.
[00:54:06] Adrian Mims: Thank you.
[00:54:07] Anna Stokke: I'm going to ask you one final question. So let's say you could wave a magic wand, and you're in charge. What advice would you give policymakers or district leaders to improve math outcomes for students who have been traditionally underrepresented in math?
[00:54:26] Adrian Mims: I would say, roll up your sleeves and let's do the hard work. And the hard work is going into neighbourhood schools, investing money, resources, and skills in making neighbourhood schools great. And the reason why I say that is because what's happening is that there are some neighbourhood schools that aren't performing well, and as a result, students have, students have to travel round trip anywhere from two to three hours to go to a decent school.
And that just shouldn't be, that shouldn't exist. And it makes it harder for parents to be involved in their children's education when they're going to school so far away from home. I feel as though that too many people have abandoned the whole idea and notion of “let's make these neighbourhood schools great and give them what they need to be successful so students can go around the corner and go to school.”
And it's a lot easier for families to be involved. And, the last thing I would say is invest some time and money into recruitment and retention of teachers and work collaboratively with graduate schools of education and make sure that these teachers have the resources and the skills to go into various classrooms and environments, because you have one branch of education in the United States where they say this is urban education, but then you have regular education.
Well, this country is becoming more and more diverse. Why not just say this is education that everyone needs, whether you're in an urban, suburban or rural environment. Because we know that those demographics can change and so we need to make sure that teachers are prepared for that change.
[00:56:26] Anna Stokke: And those are great ideas. That's a great way to close off today. So I want to thank you so much. It's been such a pleasure to meet you and to hear about the great work that you're doing. And thank you for all the work you're doing. And thank you so much for coming on my podcast.
[00:56:43] Adrian Mims: Thank you. It was a pleasure to spend time with you and to meet you. Thank you.
[00:56:46] Anna Stokke: Thank you.
I hope you enjoyed today's episode of Chalk and Talk. Please go ahead and follow on your favourite podcast app so you can get new episodes delivered as they become available. You can follow me on Twitter for notifications or check out my website annastokke.com for more information. This podcast received funding through a University of Winnipeg Knowledge Mobilization and Community Impact grant funded through the Anthony Swaity Knowledge Impact Fund.