Math Without the Textbook

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Third-grader Liv St. Pierre experienced a once in a lifetime field trip last weekend as she and her classmates left their desks at DeLaveaga Elementary School for the seats of Kaiser Permanente Arena. Liv was one of over 4,000 “Math Warriors” to attend last weekend’s 11th annual NBA D-League Showcase.

Liv and her classmates brought an unmatchable presence to the arena with their new approach to the game, including handmade signs and relentless screaming and cheering for each point scored.

“I have been here for many Warriors games but this game is very special because we have been doing math and basketball in class,” Liv said. “And because I came on a very big bus. And now I am getting interviewed. It has just been a great day for me. I’ve been so happy.”

“Math Warriors” is a program modeled after the widely successful NBA-wide “Read to Achieve” program — a child literacy project that brings athletes to the classroom to promote reading. With the success of Read to Achieve, Warriors President Jim Weyermann thought a math-oriented curriculum had to come next.

“Math is what our business is run on,” Weyermann said. “Math Warriors ties basketball experience to the classroom and inspires our kids, especially when math isn’t their subject.”

In a display of commitment to the community, Weyermann approached school district officials in Santa Cruz and asked if they would be willing to implement a math-oriented curriculum in their schools.

To initiate the program, Weyermann reached out to Eric Gross, the Director of Academic Equity and Categorical Programs for the Santa Cruz City School District. Gross oversees a variety of special services provided to students meant to ensure that “kids who need a little bit of motivation are getting it.” These services include reduced lunches and free tutoring outside of the classroom for low income families. Gross, a UCSC alumnus, had nothing but praise for Weyermann and the Warriors.

“They paid for the buses that brought all 4,000 students to the showcase Thursday and Friday,” Gross said. “They also paid for the substitute teachers needed to release the teachers so they could spend three days planning the Math Warriors curriculum.”

In preparation for the Math Warriors program, the teachers spent three days making their own curriculum to apply statewide education standards to basketball in place of traditional textbook learning.

In addition to the games attended during the program, the Warriors also provided the children, parents and teachers involved in the event additional tickets to the next two Warriors games of the showcase.

The showcase served as the perfect event for the kids to apply their newly acquired math skills during school hours. Since the showcase stretched over five days it was accessible to students during school hours and students had half of the seats reserved during matinée games on Thursday and Friday.

“We already have a Warriors reading program so they are taking that and spreading it on to other curricular areas, which is fabulous because the kids really like the reading program,” said third-grade teacher Mignonne Fish, one of the teachers in charge of developing the Math Warriors project. “They gave us $18,000 to the district to use for curriculum development, supplies and this wonderful field trip.”

Fish said her most successful math game is “basketball multiplication multipliers.” She described it as a game in which the kids use mental math to determine the product of a multiplication problem and if they get the product right, the students earn two points and get to move on.

“It’s like playing basketball but with math,” Fish said.

Teachers involved in the program praised the effort and pointed to the advantage of bringing life to a subject that many children struggle with.

“It’s a way of making real world connections for students in math, which can be a dryer, more difficult and boring subject,” said Katy Scowcroft, a second-grade and third-grade teacher at Gault Elementary School.