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Learning Center Review: Mathnasium
Are you looking for an extracurricular learning program for your child to enrich his or her math skills? With many options out there, it can be hard to know what’s best for your young one. I have visited and looked into multiple businesses to learn what separates them including their philosophies and processes.
One of these, Mathnasium, offers personalized tutoring programs for children up to high school age at over 1,000 locations nationally, with some in Canada, one in London, and several in Asia. Mathnasium’s mission is to create confident, life-long problem solvers, using math as a tool to teach critical thinking skills that kids can apply not only in school, but in all aspects of their lives.
Recently, a new Mathnasium enrichment center opened near me in Washington, DC and I was eager to learn more about the company. I visited and found the center was bright and welcoming. It had a good balance of being cheery and kid-friendly, but was also simply decorated and organized, creating a great workspace for kids.
I spoke with the Owner, Jonathan Hamel, and Program Director, Khaatima Zaid. Hamel owns several Mathnasium centers—two in Miami, one in DC, and one in Portland, Maine— traveling to and spending time at each one every month. As Program Director, Zaid trains and coaches instructors, communicates with parents, checks in with students during sessions so that she can get to know them, and performs administrative tasks. It was evident in speaking with them that they both had a real passion for teaching children and a belief in what these centers are accomplishing.
I also reached out to some parents who had enrolled their children in the company to dig a bit deeper.
I had a lot of questions and here is what I found out:
How do they meet the specific needs of your child?
After an initial one-on-one oral assessment in which they determine your child’s number sense development and foundational skills, your child is given a written assessment. Using information from both assessments, as well as your own goals for your child, the center develops a learning plan specifically tailored to your child. Parents of children at Mathnasium loved that the learning plan was so personalized for each child, and were even surprised at some of the gaps in learning that the assessment found. Each child is reassessed every two to three months to ensure that the learning plan is working for them. Mathnasium has over 19,000 pages of curriculum to draw from in order to best meet the needs of each child and be as precise as possible in each child’s learning plan.
What does a typical session look like?
Children attend the center for two 60-minute sessions each week. In a typical session, a child comes in, grabs their personalized binder that at any given time contains about 5-7 topics, checks in on the tablet set up at the front, and heads to their seat at one of the tables (children are seated with other children their age). There an instructor will work with them on going back to something from a previous session to be sure they have retained those skills while also moving forward with new topics. About 10-15 minutes are spent on each topic, which includes one-on-one instruction and practice together, as well as some independent practice time. There is typically a 4:1 student to teacher ratio, so during this independent practice time the instructor is working with other children while also giving that child space to work on their own. At first glance, this may seem like your child is not getting the individualized attention you want for them, but a) many children feel insecure or pressured when an instructor is sitting there watching them try out problems on their own, and b) this actually promotes problem-solving and independence in the child. With the instructor working with other children, this helps the child not feel the need to continually check in with the instructor to make sure they are doing it correctly. After a few minutes of working independently, the instructor returns to check in with them and look at their work.
Each kid has a small card, the size of a business card. Every time they complete a page of work in their binders, they get a stamp on the card. And not only can they earn stamps on the card by completing work in class, but they can also complete challenges outside of the center. For instance, one challenge might be to find numbers out in their everyday life and take a picture, like on a road sign. When the card is filled up, they can collect prizes—some prizes are worth just one card, while others you have to save up a number of cards to earn. It is a bit like trading in your tickets for prizes at Chuck E. Cheese. Hamel really likes this piece because it is a way for the kids to see their progress and how much work they have put into it in an easy visual way. Plus, kids love prizes!
While there is independent time interspersed throughout a session (a bit for each topic covered, with about 4 topics covered per session), Hamel is proud of the amount of time each kid experiences what he calls “eyeball to eyeball” interactions-- they spend a good chunk of the time face-to-face with a highly trained instructor. Homework help is allowed during a session, but the time is limited. The center does not want to simply “dispense band-aids,” but they want to get to the root of what a child needs, understanding their strengths and weaknesses and meeting them where they are.
While each session is built around teaching and worksheets with topics tailored to the child, the center makes an effort to incorporate games into the sessions as well. For younger children, a math game might be used to break up the session, while for older kids a game might be used at the end of a session to wind down and reinforce skills learned that day.
Most centers have flexible scheduling and have after school drop-in programs in which kids show up at any time in the afternoon and have their 60 minute session. In DC, Manhattan, and some other centers, due to a smaller space, sessions are scheduled ahead of time. However, there is flexibility in the schedule—if something comes up and you need to change your scheduled time, you can do so as long as it is 24 hours in advance.
What outcomes should be expected?
Because the learning plans are so specific, strategic, and intentional, children move through the work at a quick pace (about twice the speed they would in the school classroom). In this way, a child who is maybe two years behind in math, can close that gap in a year working with Mathnasium. It does, however, take a little time to see big results. It tends to take the kids a month or two to really get into the rhythm and pattern and be able to gain some momentum and an ability to apply the skills they are learning at the center. If you sign your kid up for just a month at the center, that is good too, but it is going to be more about maintaining some of the skills they learned over the school year, while if your kid attends regularly for several months or longer, that is when you will see those problem-solving and critical thinking skills being applied to both their math school work as well as their other subjects. The center sees math as a tool to learn and apply these skills, to excel and reach their potential in all aspects of their life.
Who are the instructors?
Each instructor at the center is highly trained and vetted. Before they even walk in the door, the owner wants to know that a) they are highly knowledgeable in math, and b) they work really well with kids. They are then trained with online instruction, complete training with the Program Director, and train with the lead instructor at the center.
Why do parents choose Mathnasium? How involved are parents in the process?
Hamel and Zaid find that there are a number of challenges that lead parents to seek them out. Their child might be bored in class and need an extra challenge; their child might be ahead in math and their parents want to keep pushing them ahead; their child might need some extra support; or their child might have some gaps in their learning that they specifically want help filling in.
There is no homework given at Mathnasium, and they keep communication lines open with parents to give them updates and learn about any concerns via email, with a face-to-face meeting every couple of months. Instructors take notes on each session with a child, and all of the assessments are kept on file, so at any given time, instructors have a very good understanding of a child’s progress. Parents I spoke to said that their kids are very positive and excited about their sessions at Mathnasium, enjoying their time spent there.
Do they collaborate with teachers?
With parent permission, they are willing and eager to collaborate with teachers. They seek to complement the child’s school curriculum so that they are a team in helping the child succeed. They can also take what they learn from a child’s teacher, whether it is about what they are seeing in class with the child or a preview of what is coming up in the curriculum, to better tailor their learning plan at the center. They are looking to support teachers in their efforts.
How much does it cost?
While the cost varies depending on the market, in the DC area it costs $345 per month, which works out to about $38.33 per hour (compared to about $70 per hour for one-on-one tutoring in the DC area).
I walked away from my interview with Zaid and Hamel feeling very excited about the work that they were doing, and looking forward to recommending them. Their mission supports creating mathematical problem-solvers and critical thinkers. They see themselves as not just teaching children how to do something, but how to take what they have learned and apply it to new situations. They are teaching children to be thinkers. I appreciate how they see themselves as working as a team with both parents and teachers, all with a common goal to help the child succeed.
Have you tried Mathnasium? What are your impressions? Would you recommend it?
If you are considering it, what other information would you want to know?
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