STEM Partnership Program with Problem-Solving Mindset Expands to More Schools

An organization that runs math competitions, develops math textbooks and curriculum, and runs math and language arts classes for students across the country in grades 2-12 is expanding a program that helps students develop problem-solving minds. Art of Problem Solving (AoPS) produces AoPS Online (math courses), AoPS Academy (math curriculum for physical classes) and AoPS Beast Academy (online and face-to-face courses for elementary students). Recently, AoPS announced that it plans to grow Lumen, a grant-funded program focused on identifying the best, scalable model for delivering math enrichment to young learners from communities underrepresented in STEM.

The first Lumen classes took place in September 2020 in a partner school in Atlanta, GA. Over that school year, trainers worked with five schools and about 130 students. During summer 2021, AoPS has been running a free preparatory summer camp that introduces low-income students to the problem-solving mindset and learning. Those efforts included the use of Beast Academy.

Now, the organization said it plans to reach at least 500 students in 10 or more partner schools in California, Georgia, Illinois, North Carolina, New York, Puerto Rico, Tennessee and Washington, D.C. All but one of the first-year schools will be returning and enrolling more students in more grades.

AoPS instructors will use the coming year to experiment and refine programmatic elements, including a direct-to-families model, curriculum scope/pace and gradual release instruction.

"One of our big goals is to create strong mathematical thinkers who value a robust math culture," said Chris Smith, director of outreach at AoPS and head of the Lumen program, in an e-mail. "We are building out a mathematics enrichment ecosystem around the program centerpiece — virtual, instructor-led classes — in order to deepen the math culture at school and at home by creating an inter-school Lumen community."

Smith said plans also included sharing resources to support parents, school teachers and site leaders using Beast Academy.

In the first year, noted Smith, Lumen saw "above expected increases" in three areas:

  • The percentage of students showing positive problem-solving mindset ("Struggle is important to learn math");
  • The percentage of students showing positive math interest and identity ("I like to be in environments where people like doing math"); and
  • The percentage of students doing problems beyond assigned work or being involved in community events.

The coming year will also add an inter-school math competition pilot, Smith said, "to create a more diverse pipeline of students for middle school math competitions."

A big objective is to matriculate students to "great middle/high school mathematics enrichment programs," he said. That will involve creating "pipelines" of Lumen students who enter Bridge to Enter Advanced Mathematics (BEAM), a sister organization of AoPS in New York and Los Angeles.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.