Teaching low-income women math to help them get better jobs

i-f875c0b07d9b3cb6229668554781b35a-alice.jpgThere's an article on the New York Times Online about Allannah Thomas, founder of Helicon, a non-profit that helps low-income women learn math skills they need for better jobs. Thomas's courses are called "math boot camp" because of their focus on fundamental skills, and she works with women to help them develop those skills you need for business, quantitative reasoning, scaling, or technical work.

The article reminds me a bit of the philosophy of Bob Moses, founder of the Algebra Project -- somehow, we live in a culture where it is somehow okay for adults to say to kids asking for help on their math homework, "Oh, I can't help you -- I was always terrible at math when I was a kid." Moses argues math is as fundamental a skill as reading, and as critical a skill for being a full citizen in contemporary American society.

Let's hope such interventions survive in this economy.

More like this

Wow! What great programs. Thanks for sharing.

I hope that when I have kids that I am able to help them with their math. It was my worst subject, but if I can help them then I will finally learn it too.

By Hilary Domush (not verified) on 24 Apr 2009 #permalink

I get so frustrated when someone tells me "I can't do math." I agree with Moses, it is as fundamental a skill as reading. I am encouraged to hear about these programs. Education is the first step to improving your conditions.

Math must be in the air. I just wrote about Jump Math, a fabulous math program for kids. The way math is now taught (or not taught) to kids drives me crazy because it sets people up for a lifetime of innumeracy. And it doesn't have to! That's the frustrating part. What's worse is that it increases the class divide. Even as an educated middle-class parent I had trouble finding a decent program I could use--it took me a year and a half to do so. What do parents with fewer internal & external resources do? One of the things I like about the JUMP math program is that the organization is doing outreach through Big Brothers and Big Sisters.

Interesting, too bad the workshops are only in New York. My friend, who is a single mother, was telling me that her daughter's homework (age 10) is getting to the stage where it's really hard for her to help, as she was "always bad a math." I found it interesting that she pretends to like math and be good at it for her daughters sake. In some aspects it's nice to put a positive light on it, but the other side is that it might be good to own up to the fact that math doesn't always come easy and some people have to work hard at it, and that working hard is a good thing. I was hoping my friend could take this workshop to show her daughter that even mommy's still like to learn math and then she could actually help her daughter with homework, instead of texting her friends for the answers (the mom does this).

I was just asked by a friend to help her daughter with math as well -- because she (the mom) "just doesn't get math". I said yes, but really just wanted to scream and tell her I would teach her and then she could help her daughter - but I know that she would never do that. Thanks for the link.

I teach algebra I to non-traditional students, and it's fascinating to watch them "get" it. Some of them, of course, are already good at math, but most of them are math-phobic. All of them are going back to school, and 90% of them are trying to increase their earning power. They want to learn, and though they may not understand why knowing math is required, they dig into it with great seriousness. I get warm fuzzies teaching them to use algebra in their everyday lives. And comments like this: "the support of the instructor with this course was invaluable"

Hi Y'all!
I'm the Allannah Thomas whose organization, Helicon, Inc., was featured in the New York Times last Sunday. The article mentioned that Iâm the sole instructor here; what it didnât mention was the fact that Iâm the sole [unpaid] employee. Iâve written hundreds of proposals requesting funding from many foundations and have received hundreds of rejection letters. (I used to think that funders believed that women couldnât learn math; therefore funding Helicon, Inc.âs initiatives would be a waste of money. I now think that funders--who, it can be convincingly argued, reflect the values of society at large--are positively terrified at the idea of women, particularly women of color, having the enormous power of math.) The latest rejection letter, which arrived yesterday, contends that Helicon, Inc.'s activities are not directly related to poverty fighting; that Helicon, Inc.'s"interventions" don't boost participants' income or earning potential. I'm glad to learn that y'all get it...

By Allannah Thomas (not verified) on 26 Apr 2009 #permalink

I read the article on Allannah Thomas helping women improve their basic math skills. I firmly believe that basic math skills are so critical to success no matter what one chooses to do. It provides the training for logical thinking, problem solving and of course ability to resolve any issues where numbers are involved. If one can master the math up to 6th grades, he/she will not have trouble with most of the jobs out there. It is this belief that has led me to start a website www.goldstudent.com, which helps kids master their math skills from k-6. I think part of the reasons our kids have trouble with math is that they dont practice enough to truly master the concept. I grew up in China and I know how much the Chinese students practice math. We created www.goldstudent.com to make it easier to parents or teachers to help their kids be better at math. It uses assessment test to design a personalized study guide for each student, assign worksheets and tests, and then grades the worksheets and tests instantly online, with a good tracking tool to allow teachers and parents to track progress. I never thought about promoting this service to other people. But reading the NYT article made me realize that other people can use it as well. My son uses it regularly and he makes a lot fewer mistakes on his tests now. I would love to see how our service can help Allannah Thomas in her cause to help low income women.

Great post and comments! I'm struggling with a related frustration. Our county adopted a new math curriculum last year. After hearing some folks grumbling, I borrowed a teacher's guide and took a good look at it. This curriculum totally rocks! Written by Dr. Karen Fason, the Math Expressions curriculum incorporates all of the recent research on how kids learn math, learning styles, social constructivism, and best practices in teaching. I love this series.
Many of my friends (upper middle-class, white, well educated) don't like it because they don't understand what their kids are doing. ME stresses different strategies for solving problems rather than teaching one rote routine. Parents are screaming "Why are they teaching my kid to add left to right?" I reply "That's the way I add all the time in my real life. As long as you regroup correctly, it's just as good as right to left, and sometimes better."
I'm considering offering some workshops for parents to help them learn how to support their children's success in math. If we don't get the parents' buy-in, they will pressure the county to drop it and go back to "drill and kill" methods. What a royal waste that would be!

Like Courtney, I also taught math to non-traditional students (while I was an undergrad). The best part for me was to watch a student, who at the beginning of the year stated "I just can't do math", get 'it' and gain confidence and the knowledge that they CAN do math. It was great.

Most of my students were women as well -- the whole conditioning of Math is Hard and women don't Do Math. Really, 75% of my teaching was just building confidence and 25% were the basic math skills!

Miss Allannah Thomas, I truly empathize with you and your frustrations of trying to get funding. Your efforts will soon be rewarded as God is watching over you and the women you're teaching. Wait on His reward and it is coming. Keep the faith, believe, and know that your due is coming. Your service is so well needed. You are actually doing exactly what I hope to do in the metro-Detroit area soon. But again, there seems to be no funding. It truly amazes me that their aren't federal government grants for your type of program although it may NOT BE not-for-profit. Check out my blog at www.makemathcount.blogspot.com and www.yolandataylor.com. Email me at makemathcount@yahoo.com is you need help with some campaigning or letter writing and getting your voice heard RE: the need to deliver basic math skills to the underpriviledged. I am with you 100%:)