Academy makes math fun

2014-07-17T00:00:00Z Academy makes math funBrian Bullock bbullock@santamariatimes.com Lompoc Record

Cal Poly's Math Academy opened Miranda Jaurequi's eyes to more than mathematics.

The 16-year-old not only found out she enjoys working out math problems, the camp has her intent on continuing her education past high school.

"It's fun. It helps get you thinking in a different way," said Miranda, who will be a junior this fall at Santa Maria High School. "When you're in math class, they give you a straight out problem. Here, they give you a puzzle and let you solve it. It's more visual."

The week-long program is just completing its third year and its founders, Cal Poly mathematics professors Elsa Medina and Amélie Schinck-Mikel, have found an equation for success. The academy, which employs a hands-on approach to teaching geometry and algebra by drawing pictures, solving puzzles and building models, gives kids a new view of an old subject.

On Wednesday, Cal Poly math instructor Rob Easton, who looks more like a student than a professor, taught the 28 students "The Mathematics of Doodling," which let the campers sketch their own shapes and provided four spacial problems that surround their doodles.

Medina and Schinck-Mikel added a new variable to the formula this year by busing the students to the Cal Poly campus. The two previous years it was held at Santa Maria High.

Schinck-Mikel said the move gives the academy more resources -- professors from the College of Science and Mathematics can more easily put on demonstrations -- and it exposes the students to college life.

"Our first objective is to just have fun with math. The bigger goal is to get them used to the university," Schinck-Mikel said. "Both Elsa and I are first generation college graduates. We want to open their eyes to those possibilities."

Miranda, who grew up in Santa Maria and attended Ontiveros Elementary School and Tommie Kunst Junior High, said the experience has helped widen her vision of the future.

"Just to see what life is like on campus, it's a lot of fun," she said, adding she's playing college by ear but intends to go somewhere.  "You get to meet new people and they're always helping you out."

The academy utilizes Cal Poly, Santa Maria High and Migrant Program instructors. It also provides Cal Poly math graduates who are working on their teaching credentials a program on which to sharpen their skills. In addition to teaching college math, Medina teaches teachers both at the university and out -- she does professional development for high school math instructors. That's where she made the connection with Santa Maria High.

Zenia Iniguez and Regina Sachtleben are math instructors at the high school, and Gabriel Esquivias is an instructor in the Migrant Program. All three women said the Math Academy was teaching their students more than math skills.

"This really just opens the door (to college)," Iniguez said. "It just gives them a taste."

"They realize it's within their grasp," Sachtleben added.

Medina, who earned both her bachelor's and master's degrees at Cal Poly and her doctorate at Northern Colorado University, returned to Cal Poly in 2000 when she was hired as an instructor. She and Schinck-Mikel came up with the idea for the camp while returning from a conference in Southern California.

She said most of the summer camps she has found are too expensive for many students. That's why theirs is free.

The first two years it was funded through a grant from the Teacher Quality Program. This year, the Cal Poly College of Science and Mathematics kicked in the cash. Medina credited Dean Phillip Bailey with approving the program.

"We have feedback from the students that this is a great experience and they wish it would last longer," she said. "It gives us great pleasure to see them solving mathematics problems. Sometimes they don't even realize their doing math because they're having fun trying to solve a puzzle. We just want them to realize their potential."

Copyright 2015 Lompoc Record. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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