While most children spend their spring break doing anything but thinking about school work, 90 students from Crowell Elementary are in school perfecting their math skills during a one-week math camp.
The students are part of a program offered by Crowell and the California State University, Stanislaus Math Department, which is part of the California Math Project. The goal of the program, known as the Math and Science Prep Academy, is to provide concentrated math instruction for students and provide professional development for aspiring teachers.
Student attendance is free and voluntary, but CSU Stanislaus math professor Viji Sundar said students appreciate the math camp.
"Every kid wants to learn and every kid can learn. I've always believed kids would rather learn than eat. I've seen kids with ice cream in their hand while working on a math problem and they become so interested with the math that the ice cream melts in their hand," she said.
Part of learning, Sundar said, is overcoming the fear of math - something which often plagues students, parents and even teachers. The math camp is centered on a fun-first teaching philosophy that incorporates games and fun activities rather than the standard lecture.
Aspiring teachers go through 16 hours of training for the program in order to learn the various avenues to reach young minds.
"Every kid can learn, but it is up to the teacher to find the way the student learns best. A good teacher can change to fit the child. A lot of people's math fear starts in grammar school when a teacher became frustrated with them. We want to break that fear and help the student gain confidence to ask questions and learn from mistakes," said Sundar.
The Crowell students were clearly excited to learn math. One second grader said, "I can't wait to rock the test." (In reference to the California Standardized Testing, which begins Tuesday).
Sundar said the reason so much attention is spent on math is not because everyone will become a mathematician but because math is the basis of all career fields.
"Math teaches us critical thinking, improves cognitive skills and is based in logic, these can be attributed to any job. The language of every job is based in mathematics," she said.
Sixteen aspiring teachers were working to provide instruction to students in grade levels 2-6. Sundar refers to the future educators as "coaches."
One coach, MBA candidate Gozde Onder of Turkey praised the math education approach of the program.
"In Turkey education is so strict and rigid. Here there is much more flexibility and more fun involved in learning. I think this is a better approach because these kids want to be here and are excited to learn. Even in Turkey people are afraid of math," she said.