mathnasium_120It stands to reason.  You need a body tune-up, you go to the gymnasium.  If you need a math tuneup it makes sense to go to the Mathnasium.  Ithaca's Mathnasium opened its doors on June 6th to kids who either need to tune up their math skills, or just love math.  Owner Ewan Barr says that by tailoring a program to individual kids they begin to understand concepts and techniques that make sense in the way things make sense to them individually.

"We bring the sense of relevence to the kids," Barr says.  "One of the things we ask the kids is what do you want to be when you leave school?  What's your passion?  We have kids that want to get into the fashion industry.  Well, what kind of math do you need in the fashion industry?  Look at the pattern on your shirt.  We have to have a knowledge of geometry and how that repeats to design that pattern, and knowing quantities and units of measure.  No matter what your vocation ends up being, math has a very important part in it.  Math surrounds us every single day."

The point is to make math fun, and therefore easier to learn.  Barr talks as much about raising kids' confidence level as he does about mathematics.  At the moment he employs three other instructors who share a passion for math and helping kids overcome the stumbling blocks of understanding how it works.

"It's a very friendly, open, and bright environment," Barr says.  "We teach the kids what the vocabulary of math means.  With that understanding it unlocks quite a treasure in these kids.  First of all what the word means.  Then what the concept means.  Then what the operation means.  They realize they can do this.  the confidence they leave the center with is quite amazing compared to when they first come in."

Barr is a native of Glasgow, Scotland, where he says math education was more a matter of learning by rote and not asking questions.  He served as a warfare officer in submarines in the Royal Navy, then moved to the United States, where he spent 27 years working in the airline industry.  He ended up working at Continental Airlines' headquarters in Houston where he was in senior management before joining the group that developed the regional subsidiary Continental Express, which became ExpressJet, an independent carrier, in 2002.  His responsibilities included operations, customer service, contracts, product delivery, customer satisfaction, dealing with complaints, and with the Department Of Transportation. 

He left the industry in 2008.  Coincidentally his wife Jacki had an opportunity to get back into it, becoming manager of Continental Airlines at the Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport.  She grew up in Dryden, and the move gave them a chance to be near her family.

mathnasium_ewan400Ewan Barr

Barr spent months researching businesses, and when he learned about Mathnasium he spent much time discussing the business and its values with them.  That led him to open his franchise here.

"It fit my values and what I believed was something of benefit to the kids, and also to the community," he says.  "So we're a real resource that can provide them an opportunity to grow their confidence, improve their math skills and really improve their grades.  It will have a long term benefit for their education and professional careers."

The first step in the Mathnasium process is to find out where the strength level is for each student.  This 'checkup' includes both an oral and written evaluation to assess where they are in math studies.  Those results are used to develop an individualized learning plan for each student.

"You won't find the same rote learning that you'll find in other centers... one size fits all, one repetitive workbook after another... everything that we do here is individualized for that student and helps them develop their specific needs in mathematics," Barr says.

The sessions are designed to have a maximum ratio of one instructor to four students.  All learning is done in the Mathnasium.  There is no homework, which means that students have access to an instructor as they work out problems.  Sessions range from an hour to an hour and a half.  They are spiced with techniques for breaking down complex problems into easy-to-understand chunks.

"When you ask someone to add up 999 plus 999 plus 999 they'll write those three numbers in a column and start adding rather than saying, 'Well 999 is only one away from a thousand, so three times 100 is 300, and it's only one apart so you take three away from that," Barr explains.  "It's not tricks.  It's memorization techniques that work, and tools that work."

Or percents.

"When I tell them that percent means 'for each hundred'  -- so seven percent of three hundred is seven for the first hundred, seven for the second hundred, and seven for the third hundred," he says.  "For many it is the first time they have had an explanation as simple as that.  They can very easily add seven three times and come up with 21.  They had never thought of it that way before."

After less than two months, Barr is already seeing results.

"My favorite part of having this business is watching the trepidation of both the parent and the student, not really sure as to what Mathnasium is or can do, and then after just a very few short sessions seeing the thrill as the child wants to be here, they're having fun here, that they are learning," he says.  "They go out with a happy smile on their face and have gained tremendous confidence."