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To the Next Power
An SIUC mathematics professor is furthering the cause of civil rights by helping high school and college students learn to work with younger minority students on their math skills.
Gregory Budzban recently received a grant from the Young People's Project Inc. to develop methods for training the high school and college students as "math literacy workers." The grant covers the cost of creating training methods, materials, and workshops aimed at producing up to 500 such workers.
The Young People's Project grew out of the Algebra Project, the brainchild of civil rights–era activist Robert Moses, an innovative math educator who created the program to improve minority students' math performance. Budzban met Moses in 2001 when he invited him to speak at SIUC. The two have collaborated ever since. Moses' daughter, Maisha Moses, who is finishing her master's degree in math at SIUC this fall, works with Budzban on several math literacy initiatives, including the grant.
Previously, Budzban and Robert Moses teamed up on a $700,000 National Science Foundation grant titled "Raising the Floor," which focused on ninth-graders and incorporated Budzban's work on the so-called "Road Coloring Problem" into the Algebra Project's approach. Their efforts used innovative games to demonstrate the principles of classic math problems, using peer instructors who were just a year or so older than the students.
"The approach we use is to immerse students in what we call mathematically rich experiences," Budzban says. "The Road Coloring Problem can be approached like a game. But it's a game that can operate on many different levels of math. Part of our work has been tailoring the approach to the problem to the age of the students."
This fall and winter, Budzban and Maisha Moses are working on tailoring another game—The Flagway Game—to different age levels, as well as starting "math leagues" at several sites around the country.
"There is very deep math in each of these problems that can be made accessible to a full range of students," says Maisha Moses, who was instrumental in obtaining the grant. "The math league will be like Little League, except they'll be doing math instead of baseball."
For both Budzban and Maisha Moses, improving math performance among minority students is crucial in today's economy, which hinges on technological and scientific skills.
"[If] students come to the University without the proper math preparation, roughly half the programs are closed to them. Many of those areas are among the fastest-growing professions," Budzban says.
Maisha Moses agrees that giving young people options is the goal. "I want everyone to have the chance at an education that provides a full range of choices," she says.
—by Tim Crosby, Media & Communication Resources
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