Breaking the Math Mold

McKay School alumnus helps math students reach their potential.

Children who get behind in school can begin to feel a sense of hopelessness. Some fall years behind their classmates because there doesn’t seem to be a way for them to catch up. One McKay School alumnus has participated in developing an online tool designed to rescue students who are struggling to catch up in math.

After graduating from the McKay School, Spencer Bean worked with a group of teachers called the Algebros to create Flipped Math, a flipped-mastery classroom that, unlike other flipped learning approaches, urges math students to gain a solid understanding of concepts before moving on to further lessons. “To understand why we are doing this, you have to know our previous struggles,” Bean said. “In our traditional math classrooms we were frustrated with several things, one of which was the difficulty to help students learn on the level they were coming to us.”

While some students have no problem learning new material at the beginning of the school year, Bean explained that others are sometimes five or more years behind grade level. “In our traditional classroom we expect them to catch on to the same lessons and move at the same pace as their peers,” he said. “Instead of helping them, the system just creates more gaps in knowledge as they are left further behind.”

Bean and his colleagues, Mike Burst, Tim Kelly, and Corey Sullivan, developed Flipped Math as an attempt to create a system to prevent these gaps in knowledge for struggling students. The Algebros saw a 100 percent passing rate during the first semester in which students participated in the program and a 95 percent passing rate in the second. “We receive emails regularly from parents across the country who find our website and want to thank us,” Bean said. “To have four award-winning high school math teachers who have a proven track record in the classroom teach their kids is an incredible opportunity. We know the struggles kids have, and we are always adapting and trying to improve our lessons.”

The Algebros have garnered attention from many organizations. In 2011 President Obama invited Bean to the White House to be recognized with the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, the highest award a math teacher can receive in the United States.

Students have expressed their thanks for the skills they’ve learned while working with the Flipped Math program. One student in particular commented on the drastic improvements he was able to make while working with the program in Germany. “When I came here to Kaiserslautern, I was failing algebra and I was completely lost,” the student related. “At first I was skeptical about flipped mastery, but then I finally got into the motion of things and it was so easy! I will always pick a flipped mastery class like [the one taught by] the Algebros over normal teaching!”

As Flipped Math increases in popularity, more educators and students will make good use of the award-winning tools the Algebros have created, and since the program is available online, they will be able to do so regardless of whether they are in Kaiserslautern, Germany or Anytown, U.S.A.

“Personally, I love the idea of making access to education free for anyone with a computer and Internet access,” Bean explained. “There are many quality educators who are subject matter experts. Why not allow our students to receive the initial instruction from them and then guide their learning from there?”

Bean and his wife, Estrellita, currently reside with their five children in Germany, where he continues to teach math at Ramstein High School. More information about Flipped Math can be found here.

Photo Courtesy of Spencer Bean. Bean (left) standing with his fellow Algebros.