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  • What is the Marvelous Math Club?

    Marvelous Math Club is an enterprise using math as a catalyst to build community and leadership among elementary school children living at Pisgah View Apartments. Our goal is for children of color to be excited about mathematics.

    What are we trying to accomplish with Marvelous Math Club?

    We want to create a space where it is exciting to study, there are resources for homework, opportunities to play with math, feel supported as a person and learn how to lead. We want members to adhere positive emotions and experiences with math.

    Why it is a club?

    Members organize their time and activity around math and are expected to come every week. Membership is not based on external teacher assessment or forced on children by parents. Members choose to be there and can walk away at any time.

    Why use a community-based, leadership model?

    What members have in common is that they live at Pisgah View. Some are more advanced in their math studies than others. This is not a club organized around remediation or homework help or achievement gap. These are friends to who choose to gather each week, study and play together and support one another. As Math Champions, you provide the support needed to create a space where that can happen.

    At Marvelous Math Club, we presume that each member is a math leader. This expectation invites members not only to behave their best, but to help bring out the best in others. Members learn to see themselves as leaders not just at the Club, but in class and at home.

    Why not just do worksheets?

    Worksheets can be valuable for developing and reinforcing specific computational skills. But there are two central issues facing the members of Marvelous Math Club. First is poverty. Poverty is a well-studied barrier to education. Second is an attitude that is shared by most Americans; math is a talent someone has or does not have. This all-or-nothing approach to math is damaging. Math is a skill. And like any skill, ability requires practice, perseverance and the right attitude. These are the same qualities we highlight in leadership.

    Associating math with community, support and fun makes it possible for these members to see themselves as capable. By emphasizing leadership, our members develop the self-perception needed for persistence in the presence of a challenge. When they face a difficult day in math class, they will be inoculated from deciding they are one of those people who can’t do math. Rather, they will use the habits developed in Marvelous Math Club to see it as a challenge. They also be a resource to their peers when their friends and classmates have a difficult day.

    What does a meeting of the Marvelous Math Club look like?

    We start with snacks and check-in. Members quickly share something positive about their day.

    After clean-up, those with homework are invited to a quiet room where they can focus on finishing their assignments. Two or more Math Champions are there to serve as a resource for homework in math or other topics. At least one math major or math faculty member from UNC Asheville with present in the homework room.

    Everyone must do some math. So, those who are not working on homework must work on something else. This might be a workbook, or math game or flash cards. There will also be times of the year when members might be exploring the history and work of Black mathematicians or developing a strategy to solve a community problem using mathematics. We also have a computer lab where members can log into their iReady account (which Asheville City School uses for homework assignments, material review and academic activities.

    The last portion of the meeting is reserved for everyone to gather at the main table. In turn, each member is asked “How have you shown leadership today?” Answers vary from assisting someone with a task, to listening to direction the first time to finishing all of their work. We then ask everyone else at the table how that one member displayed leadership today. To be noticed for positive behavior by their peers has a profound impact on members. We do not tattle on one another. If a member did not do so well that day, they have to own up to it. The follow-up question in that case is “How can you do better next time?” We remind them that noticing where you fell short and making plans of how to do better is also leadership.

    What are examples of asset-based language?

    One strategy we employ to maintain positive views to one another and improve self-efficacy is to focus on asset-based. Words like leader, respect, resource, encouragement, strategy, positive, compassion, community, develop, support and explore invite all of us to stay open to possibility, creativity and effective behavior. At Marvelous Math Club we uplift friends, persevere through problems, find strategies, explore possible solutions, praise one another, develop self-respect and honor either other’s cultures and values. We intentionally avoid deficit-based language such as help, gap, low-income, underrepresented or poor. This vocabulary invites pre-judgement of ability, presumes lower potential and can evoke shame.

    Who is involved with Marvelous Math Club?

    The core partners of Marvelous Math Club are the Asheville Housing Authority, Asheville City Schools and UNC Asheville. The lead organizers are Marta Alcala-Williams, the Parent U Director at Asheville City Schools, Dr. Samuel R. Kaplan, Director of the Asheville Initiative for Math at UNC Asheville and Natalie Sheppard, AmeriCorps VISTA member.

    What is a Math Champion?

    Students in 6th grade or higher and adults who commit to the vision of Marvelous Math Club and attend regularly are Math Champions. They are more than volunteers, they are the role models who bring math leadership to life.

    What does it mean that no one gets kicked out of Marvelous Math Club?

    A core value in Marvelous Math Club is that we are a family. No one can be kicked out. There are days when a member attends but is not able to bring the focus needed to make Marvelous Math Club a space of learning and safety. They would be reminded of their role as a math leader. If they need to go outside a scream or run around a few minutes, then they are welcome to that. If that day has been just too much for them, they are welcome to go home and come back the next week. As a Math Champions, we provide a reminder, offer options and invite them to provide self-care. But we do not force them to leave or raise our voices or make ultimatums or bargains.

    Marvelous Math Club needs to be place where everyone is safe and can focus. If this is not in the cards today, it is okay to go home and take a break and show some self-care.  

    What are math games?

    Some games that members play are designed to review math skills. But any game can be adapted to include math review. For example, Mother May I? can use math questions or in a two-person game, each player can answer a math question posed by the other player before proceeding to move.

    How are members recognized for participation?

    Members earn ICAN stickers when they:


            Share at the end

            Bring their binder

            Wear their Marvelous Math Club t-shirt to school.

            Complete a lesson on iReady

    When they earn 10 stickers, they get to pick a prize.

    Once the have attended five times, they earn a t-shirt.


    What do Math Champions do after the meeting and between meetings?

    There are multiple roles of Math Champions during a meeting. A Math Champion might be a homework resource, but they might play games with members, oversee the computer lab, escort members from one group to another, help with online exploration. The role might vary week to week depending on the needs of the members and activities we have planned.

    Between meetings, Math Champions improve their own learning and problem-solving skills. If they bring a sense of excitement about math each week, members will sense that.

    What commitment am I making to the members when I become a Math Champion?


    An effective Math Champion may need to address their own habits and expectations of how they are treated and how they communicate. Elementary students do not necessarily show respect to someone just because they are older. They live complicated lives and self-regulation is a skill that is still in development. Math Champions take on the challenge of not knowing exactly who will walk in the door or what skill will be required of them:

    • Respectful listening
    • Building community
    • Trust
    • Being positive
    • Providing advice

    Math Champions also model the values we try to instill in Marvelous Math Club. Between sessions, Math Champions provide their own self-care and develop a curiosity about mathematics and problem solving.