suhsd“In our opening activity, students worked together to move cups by strings only – no hands allowed – encouraging communication, collaboration and group problem-solving.  We wanted to create a classroom culture in which students would feel comfortable sharing their ideas and persevering.” – Cristina Jimenez, Instructor, New Works Integrated Math Course 1 

This summer, 25 incoming Sweetwater Union High School District freshmen had the unique opportunity to earn credit for Integrated Mathematics 1, allowing them to enter Integrated Mathematics 2 this school year — thanks to a successful partnership between the Sweetwater Union High School District and Math for America San Diego via the CREATE STEM Success Initiative.

“New Works Integrated Math Course 1” was a specialized summer school class developed by teachers and program leadership from Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD) and Math for America San Diego (MfA SD), a teacher professional development program housed in the Center for Research on Educational Equity, Assessment and Teaching Excellence (CREATE) at UC San Diego.

“We were thrilled to provide a learning experience that bridged the gap between Integrated Mathematics 1 and 2 and exposed students to real-world mathematics in a new way,” said Katrine Czajkowski, lead curriculum specialist for Sweetwater Union High School District. “It was great collaborating with Math for America San Diego through the CREATE STEM Success Initiative to envision and implement an accelerated math and engineering course that helped our students move on to Integrated Mathematics 2.”

The “New Works” summer program targeted students who had previously struggled with algebra in seventh grade, but had successfully completed Integrated Math 8. “These students were therefore able to accelerate through both semesters of Integrated Mathematics 1 to become prepared to succeed in Integrated Mathematics 2,” Czajkowski added.

The four-week class at Sweetwater High School featured two weeks of Integrated Mathematics 1 (IM1) informed by engineering applications to engage students in mathematics via technology and engineering.  Co-taught by SUHSD’s Olympian High School mathematics teachers Dolores Bezies and Norma Woo, students explored linear and exponential mathematics embedded in engineering and technology-based problems, and worked to construct a bridge using IM1 mathematical knowledge.

For the second half of the course, MfA SD co-teachers Cristina Jimenez, mathematics teacher at Albert Einstein Academies, and Aurmon Harchegani, mathematics teacher at High Tech High Chula Vista, provided a mathematics curriculum that engaged students and encouraged them to become creative problem solvers. Jimenez and Harchegani are alumni of the MfA SD Teaching Fellowship program, a five-year professional development program for new middle and high school mathematics teachers.

“The MfA SD co-teachers were really pleased with the level of student interest and truly enjoyed working with the Sweetwater students those two weeks,” said Barbara Edwards, MfA SD executive director. “MfA SD works with county school districts to provide effective, research-based teaching support to their staff and students. We were delighted to bring our prior summer math camp experiences led by our exemplary teaching fellows, and our professional development work through MfA SD to the table to help build a program that best serves the needs of Sweetwater students.”

secondJimenez and Harchegani’s classroom instruction centered on sparking deep conversations among students about ways of thinking about mathematics, and asking them to think carefully about the problem-solving process and to begin to share that process with their classmates.

“Our goal was to promote deep mathematical thinking,” Jimenez said. “We presented problems and stimulated intense discovery in an inquiry-based learning environment. We didn’t tell students what to do. We made it their job to figure out what to do, leaving problem-solving wide open, letting them think it through. In order to understand a problem, we encouraged them to use anything they knew about math, not forcing just one way to solve a problem.”

“It was important we create and cultivate a classroom culture that made students feel safe sharing their ideas,” Harchegani added. “To do this we discussed the students’ fears and anxiety around math openly. We questioned students on their thinking, rather than their answers, and we celebrated their mistakes and used them to further their understanding.”

diameter 3In one project, students collaboratively worked to model motion, predicting how actual objects such as soup cans and cups with different radii and height would roll. They were able to use a variety of tools and concepts to test their hypotheses, and showcased their approaches on posters.

cupfloor 4Thinking through problems and following their intuition, students applied creative approaches to finding solutions. One group used lipstick on the edge of their cup to improvise a giant compass, while another group cut a cup in half to represent their solution more accurately on their poster.

boy computer 5Students received plenty of experience daily in the school computer lab by practicing their construction skills with Geometer’s Sketchpad, which allows students to test their hypotheses and intuition, measure exactly, and animate a point to see what’s possible.

girl computer 6Throughout the course, they worked with Microsoft Excel and Desmos for online graphing and calculating, using it primarily for linear and exponential problems. Students also gained skills working with Alice, a software program for teaching students computer programming in a 3-D environment.

Cultivating a “growth mindset” – the idea that students can learn from their mistakes and persevere – is a value shared by MfA SD and SUHSD. MfA SD Fellow Aurmon Harchegani reviews problem sets with a New Works student.
Cultivating a “growth mindset” – the idea that students can learn from their mistakes and persevere – is a value shared by MfA SD and SUHSD. MfA SD Fellow Aurmon Harchegani reviews problem sets with a New Works student.
“Energetic, interested and empowered,” said Jimenez about the class.

Teachers agreed it was a pleasure to work with the students and prepare them to move into next year’s IM2 class.

“It was fun to incorporate technology and engineering ways of thinking into a mathematics class to allow students to learn in a different way,” Jimenez said. “The New Works class redefined what Integrated Math 1 could be. Through inquiry learning, we created a student-centered classroom in which we could activate and foster student ownership and creation of knowledge. By reconsidering what a course could be, we provided a more well-rounded, tangible and interesting experience for students.”

end 8“I enjoyed that being unsure or having doubts was celebrated and encouraged in the class, and if my thought or idea wasn’t fully complete, we worked together as a class to all reach the solution together. I also enjoyed that there wasn’t a single right answer, but many different ideas that were celebrated in finding one. No matter what, everyone’s thoughts were praised.” – Student Reflection, New Works Integrated Math Course 1

Interested in working with Math for America San Diego or the broader efforts of the CREATE STEM Success Initiative?  Contact Barbara Edwards, MfA SD executive director, at