By Glenn Wohltmann
One thing I love about Las Positas College is the staff really is invested in student success. Did you know that for every class you take here you are eligible for a free hour of tutoring every week?
As someone who had not done math since before most of you were born, I was understandably nervous about having to take – and succeed in – college-level math courses.
Fortunately, I discovered Math Jam, a weeklong study/tutoring event when I decided to go back to school, and it – along with the people who brought it here – shows just how committed Las Positas is to academic success.
I’ve been to both sections of Math Jam, which is held the week before class starts. All I needed to do was to show and to be relatively awake. Everything else is provided, including supplies, snacks, lunch and online study guides, along with more than a dozen tutors that were quick to help if I had a problem about a question (or, I suppose, a question about a problem).
Like me, Math Jam was brand new at Las Positas this spring. As is the case in every class, there was an awkward “getting to know you” for the first hour or so, but before long I was hunkered down answering questions I had gone near in decades.
Unlike a class, each Math Jam student gets a personalized study plan based on testing done that first day. It didn’t mater whether a student was struggling to bring up their math scores, wanted to brush up on their skills or move up.
Five hours a day for five straight days, we practiced PEMDAS (the order of operations for math equations). We tried, screwed up, tried again and got it right.
That’s a lot of math, especially for someone like me, who had successfully avoided anything more complicated than balancing my checkbook for more than two decades.
Math Jam accomplished a few things for me. It allowed me to practice and remember my high school math, which I’d excelled at, and to challenge myself. It also provided help in case I got stuck or lost in a problem.
The event also offered lunchtime discussions on how to reduce test anxiety, on recent studies that show people can improve their intelligence by learning a new skill (like math), and on financial aid.
The single biggest change for me came from a paradigm shift, which is a nouveau-business term for a sudden, large shift in perception.
Thanks to Math Jam, I was able to change my way of thinking from, “I can’t do math,” to, “I love math.”
Unlike most of the rest of my life – my relationships, for example – math has a single correct answer. Do the work, get the result.
I aced my first math class, and Math Jam gets all the credit.
I’m not alone in my success. About 100 people attended that first session, and every single person said they’d recommend the tutoring sessions to their friends. That proved true in August when attendance increased. And nearly every person who attended the latest Math Jam scored better on the final assessment than they did the first day.
“From my pre- to my post-test, I jumped from 36 percent to 88 percent,” one student participant wrote. “I am ready for school.”
Anther participant praised the tutors and the staff.
“I liked that we took the test and it identified weak points for us to work on,” the student said. “Above all else, I like that after four days, I feel more confident going into my next math class.”
I signed up for the second Math Jam event just to review the work from last semester and practice word problems. You know the ones: A car leaves Boston traveling at one rate of speed, and another car leaves New York traveling 10 miles faster than the first one. They meet three hours later. How fast were they going?
I spent the week practicing them, and reviewing the rest of my prior course. On Friday, after some not-so-subtle prodding, Kristine Woods, who brought Math Jam to Las Positas, persuaded me to take another assessment.
Turns out I moved up a level, along with more than a half-dozen others.
Now I am in a math class that’s pushing me. I’m in a bit over my head, but that’s not a bad thing.
I know I will do well. And if I start to struggle, there is a ton of help available. My instructor has office hours, and the math text offers additional questions. There’s impromptu tutoring at the Integrated Learning Center, and if I really need it, I can always schedule an hour a week of that free tutoring – all part of the college’s commitment to student success, available to everyone attending Las Positas.