What we’re learning: Math you can grab, run and feel

What We’re Learning:  Math You Can Grab, Run and Feel
Elizabeth Moore

When the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation launched the math focus of our K-12 Education strategy just over a year ago, we emphasized the importance of motivation, engagement, and persistence to help students succeed in math. Math is where students learn critical thinking and problem-solving skills necessary for future success, whether they want to pursue a career in medicine, business, graphic design or gaming. Acquiring the foundational math knowledge to solve problems in daily life and society isn't just a skill—it's a lifeline that every student needs to flourish in adulthood. Math influences everything in life, from opening the door to job opportunities to empowering us with skills necessary for engaging in our communities and civic institutions.

However, too many students do not feel connected to math, finding it abstract, overly complicated, and disconnected from their lives and interests.

How the Young People’s Project Makes Math Motivating and Engaging

What does it look like when students are engaged and excited when learning math? Maisha Moses, executive director of The Young People’s Project (YPP), an organization that teaches math fluency and Algebra foundations to predominantly students of color and students from low-income backgrounds, has one answer. YPP approaches math through movement and physicality, through relationships and mentorship. Students learning in a YPP classroom aren’t sitting at desks with a teacher at the front of a room, heads-down and minds disengaged. Instead, they’re running, they’re soaring through algebraic formulas, working collaboratively as they compete in math games. YPP’s signature math literacy game, Flagway (learn more here) is a high energy, interactive effort teaching prime numbers, factorization, permutations, and algebraic substitutions.

YPP shows us that when students are engaged and excited to learn math, they come to see themselves as “math people” and take pride in their learning, rather than it feeling like a chore. It also shows the importance of near-peer mentors who make students feel seen and talk with them about math in engaging ways that relate to students’ interests, like sports.

As Maisha Moses says, their work “enables the kids to put motion into mathematics. It enables the kids to move.” We believe all students, especially students traditionally underserved in math, including Black and Latino students and students from low-income backgrounds, deserve a rigorous, joyful, relevant math classroom. To learn more about how YPP takes this on in schools across the country, watch this video. To learn more about The Young People’s Project, please visit https://www.typp.org/.

Elizabeth Moore is a Deputy Director with the K-12 team at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. She leads the team focused on high quality math learning experiences for all students, especially Black and Latino student and students from low-income backgrounds. Prior to joining the Gates Foundation, Elizabeth was at Pearson Education for 18 years. She began her career as a middle school and high school ELA teacher in Texas and California.