After serving as a math coach for eight charter schools in Hillsborough County, Becky McDaniels opened a business in Valrico that promises to “make math make sense” for students in early education up through high school and beyond.
Mathnasium — The Math Learning Center opened in October in Plaza Bella, where McDaniels and her staff work with students at all grade levels to help them “get” math. The math tutoring center is also known as Mathnasium Brandon.
But it’s not only the student who flounders in math who can benefit from the so-called “Mathnasium Method,” said McDaniels, a certified teacher.
“Being a math teacher, I saw a great need for both students who struggled in math and for students who excelled in math and didn’t have enough enrichment,” she said. “I want every kid to feel like math can be a great thing because it’s everything in our world nowadays.”
McDaniels said there are too many misconceptions about math, including the belief that a person’s “DNA doesn’t allow them to do well in math,” and that “either you’re a math person or you’re a language person,” she said. “But really, all kids can excel in math. They just need to be taught ways that make sense to them.”
Mathnasium’s approach made sense to McDaniels, and she explored it more after hearing an advertisement for Mathnasium on the radio.
What sounded “really cool” was soon mixed with a healthy dose of skepticism about embarking on a franchise business, McDaniels said. So, after “a lot of research” and “a lot of prayer,” McDaniels said she found herself in Los Angeles, speaking to Larry Martinek, a lifelong mathematics educator who founded and built the Mathnasium Method curriculum as a way to address the needs of his mathematically gifted son.
The method combines oral, visual, mental and written processes to help children attain a grasp of mathematical fundamentals necessary for developing mastery. For McDaniels, this “number sense” way of thinking struck home.
“Math is definitely a language,” she said. “Yes, there is a right answer, but it’s how you get to it, that critical thinking, that’s important, and getting kids to think on a higher level. It’s very important kids understand the how and the why” to solving a math problem.
“It’s ok to have a little bit of disequilibrium,” McDaniels added. “When you struggle you actually can understand the problem more because we go back and dissect the problem.” Once the problem is identified, she added, “You see where you went wrong, and it sticks.”
After learning more about Mathnasium in Los Angeles, “I came back and decided it was something I was ok to do,” McDaniels said. “I believed it was going to be a great asset to the community.”
At the Greater Brandon Fourth of July Parade, students and teachers of Mathnasium joined in a celebration of festivities, with their parade entry espousing the benefits of the Valrico-based business, which also has Hillsborough County franchisees in Carrollwood, New Tampa and South Tampa.
“It’s great,” said Kyra Denington, a freshman in the International Baccalaureate program at Strawberry Crest High School in Dover. “It helped me keep much higher grades and do much better in classes and understand things so much better.”
Alicia Coughlin, an eighth-grader at Barrington Middle School, said she at first was reluctant to go to Mathnasium, but then found it appealing.
“As soon as you walk in it feels like a home,” she said. “Everybody’s all together” and “it’s easier to talk to (teachers). It’s more comfortable.”
The Mathnasium learning center, Denington added, “is the place where kids can feel safe to ask questions and ask for further explanation and build up their confidence.” In effect, she added, it’s “a place where you can grow and excel and ask questions and have a deeper understanding.”
According to McDaniels, about 80 students in kindergarten through college have been to the Greater Brandon area Mathnasium since its opening. The center specializes in kindergarten through high school instruction. Summer packages and monthly plans with drop-in dates are available. Students have customized learning plans and work together, mostly in groups of three, with individualized attention from instructors using the “teach and move on” method.
“Instructors are close by, constantly checking in and making sure the students are working through their problems correctly,” McDaniels said. “We want to catch any problems while they’re working.”
The mathematically gifted staff includes certified teachers, a retired engineer, a master mathematician and college students, including Laura Del Castillo, who in 2014 was the valedictorian at Durant High School.
“I wanted to be a tutor and I thought it would be a good opportunity,” Del Castillo said, about her decision to work at Mathnasium this summer. “It’s an opportunity to refresh my brain on math content, and teaching others is the best way of learning.”
As for the Mathnasium Method, she added, “It teaches kids how to love math instead of doing just a bunch of busy work.”
Mack Colen, an assistant lead instructor, is a junior at the University of South Florida, with plans to pursue a career in public health.
“I absolutely love it,” he said about the Mathnasium Method. “You could see that it is really helping the kids.”
“They advance through higher math very quickly” because “it’s a very comfortable environment and they’re not judged,” Colen added. “They feel comfortable coming here and they want to get better at math.”
Mathnasium – The Learning Center is at 1048 Bloomingdale Ave., in the Plaza Bella shopping center. For more information on the instructional team, offerings and hours, visit www.mathnasium.com /brandon.
For a free consultation, call (813) 655-6284.