Making Math Social

Everyday after school, 8th grade math teacher Allison Krasnow opens up her classroom, like so many other teachers in the district, for tutoring at Willard Middle School. Her intent is to make math social, to create a space for peers to gather while maintaining a focused environment.  She wants students to realize that getting extra help can be a positive experience.

“I talk with my classes about what college is like–you have some class time throughout the week, but a whole lot of open-ended time when you need to get work done,” explains Krasnow. “When I was in college I found that I accomplished the most when I had a group of friends to hold me accountable–we’d meet in the same place, on a regular schedule, with good snacks and get to work.  I want to replicate that sense of accountability and accomplishment.”

There is a buy in for the students. Krasnow keeps really good snacks and flavored bubbly water that are given to students at the 30 minute mark of the after school tutoring session. She also received a grant from the Berkeley Public Schools Fund to give out $5 gift cards once students complete 5 one-hour sessions after school. For students that are doing well in math, she encourages them to become peer tutors. By helping their classmates they earn a $5 gift card after just 3 sessions. She sees how students feel a lot of pride from earning their gift cards, and it is a positive incentive for them to return week after week.

All this activity has led to up to 30 students coming to tutoring on a regular basis. Krasnow has now assembled a team of Cal students and a volunteer to provide so much support for all that’s happening. Bridging Berkeley is a math mentoring program that matches UC Berkeley work-study students with Berkeley middle school youth, especially those who will be first-generation college students. Berkeley School Volunteers places volunteers in classrooms as well, and in this placement they have a retiree helping out with the tutoring. Krasnow’s after school sessions are an intergenerational microcosm of Berkeley.

“It’s amazing,” says Krasnow. “Some students really need one on one help, so I will sit them individually with a tutor. Others are working in a group and just need someone hanging out at their table to check in when they get stuck.”  Having 5 other adults in the room has a huge impact on the amount of attention students receive. “The room provides so much rich conversation and support for all that’s happening.”