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Students get hands-on with math in summer program
Erin Cuarenta, a HiMAP instructor (far right) releases the pace car in a toy car race at CSU Stanislaus on Tuesday. Students used algebra to calculate how far away from the finish line they had to place each car in order for every car to finish at the same time. - photo by ANDREA GOODWIN / The Journal
Every student who has ever taken algebra in high school has probably asked the question; “When am I ever going to need this?” The High School Mathematics Access Program, sponsored by the office of mathematics grants at CSU Stanislaus, is answering that question during a four-week summer program.
Students from around Stanislaus County are improving their algebra and geometry skills while learning the practical applications of math problems in the summer HiMAP session. Students meet four days a week to work in small groups and independently solve math equations. The students use their new-found math skills to complete activities.
On Tuesday the HiMAP students were solving systems of linear equations in terms of a car race. Students raced toy cars down a track at calculated speeds and distances. If the students got the equation right, they should all have crossed the finish line at the same time.
Earlier in the week, students learned how stunt coordinators for Hollywood films use algebra and geometry to calculate car stunts. HiMAP instructors drew a model of an intersection on the floor in a classroom. There was a large circle around the intersection, representing the frame of a movie camera. The objective was for students to use math equations to drive four cars through the “scene” at the same time without causing a crash in the intersection.
“I think when you give them a reason to solve a math problem it makes it more meaningful,” said Erin Cuarenta, a HiMAP teacher.
Some students were there because they like math and wanted to learn more, and others were there because they needed extra help with their geometry or algebra skills. Students said that they generally enjoyed the program.
“It’s more fun working in a group, you get a lot of different opinions and eventually you come up with a better answer than working by yourself,” said Christina Yshana, a high school freshman. The summer HiMAP session offers two courses for students in grades 6-12. Strategies for Success in Geometry is for all students who have completed Algebra I. Strategies for Success in Algebra II is for all students who have completed algebra 1 and geometry.
Summer HiMAP differs from the year-long program, where students get instruction in everything from general math to AP calculus. Year-long HiMAP students also take science classes that match their academic levels.
Viji Sundar, HiMAP program director, said that the year-long program started out as a math and science education program for high school girls. It has since expanded to include boys and middle school students, but it is still separated by gender. Every year Sundar surveys her students, and the girls always respond that they want to keep the classes separate.
“Studies have shown that girls hold back in a combined classroom,” Sundar said.  
The summer HiMAP program is drawing to a close with an award ceremony on Thursday. The year-long program starts in September and runs through May. For additional information about the HiMAP program, contact Viji Sundar or Rita Glynn at 667-3780.
To contact Andrea Goodwin, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2003.