Addressing the Math Crisis: How to Empower Students Together with Montserrat Gomez

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About Knowledge Bytes Episode 5 “Addressing the Math Crisis: How to Empower Students Together”

Math scores across the country have significantly decreased since the beginning of the pandemic. So, how do we turn things around? How can educators and parents empower students and help change their mindset towards math?

Our guest on Episode 5 is Montserrat Gomez. Montserrat grew up in Mexico and then moved to the US to pursue a degree in Applied Mathematics at UC Berkeley. There, she became passionate about tutoring and has been implementing her math expertise as a tutor and educator ever since.

Episode content

Here are some questions we get into:

  • What is the state of the current “math crisis” and some ways we can solve it?
  • How do we change students’ mindsets towards math to be more positive?
  • How can parents stay updated on their children’s curriculum to be able to assist with their homework?
  • What are ways tutors can empower students with math?
  • What games and resources to use to make math more fun?

Resources mentioned in the episode

What next?

Knowledge Bytes podcast cover art

You can find Montserrat on Lessonpal and book Math or Spanish lessons with her.

Check out other related episodes like this one about ACT and SAT Math.

Don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel to watch more episodes, or listen wherever you get your podcasts (Spotify, Apple Podcasts, iHeart Radio, etc.). Episode 5 is the finale of season 1. So check out the previous episodes and stay tuned!

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Episode transcript

Kaitlin: [00:00:00] Hey everyone, welcome back to Knowledge Bytes, a podcast where we explore topics related to the world of education so you can get your dose of new knowledge. Before we jump in, don’t forget to subscribe wherever you’re listening so you can stay up to date with new episodes. Last year we found out that across the country, students math scores were, on average, the lowest that education analysts had seen in 20 years. Now, this was mainly due to the COVID pandemic disrupting learning. But while the pandemic has improved, we’re still seeing the impact it’s had on education. According to AP News, students are still half a school year behind in math. So how do we turn things around? How can educators and parents help change students mindsets towards math to be more positive?

And what can we do to engage them in creative ways and put them back on track? That’s what we get into in this episode with math educator Montserrat Gomez. Stay tuned to explore the nuances of this problem and ideas for how we move forward. A quick note that this episode 5 will wrap up season 1 of Knowledge Bytes.

I [00:01:00] want to say thank you to anyone that has listened to this first season. Stick around to hear more potential seasons in the future, and you can visit the LessonPal blog for great content in the meantime. Alright, no more delaying, now for my conversation with Montserrat Gomez. Here we go.

Episode intro

Hi listeners. My name is Kaitlin Fenn. I’m the host of Knowledge Bytes, this podcast that is brought to you by Lessonpal, the affordable online tutoring platform. Before we get started, first, a quick plug. If you haven’t checked out LessonPal yet, it’s a great time to do so as tutors tend to get busier into the semester and into the school year.

So you can go browse tutors on or post a tutoring request right on the platform, book lessons super easily. And see tutors availability right from their profile. [00:02:00] So with that today, I’m really excited to be joined by one of Lessonpal’s top tutors. Our guest is Montserrat Gomez, and she’s here with me to discuss the current state of math among U. S. students and how educators and parents can work together to help break down some common Math barriers and get kids excited about the subject. So welcome on, We’re happy to have you.

Montserrat: Thank you, Kaitlin. Thank you.

Kaitlin: Yeah so to give a little bit of background about Montserrat before we get started: She’s been interested in math since she was a kid growing up in Mexico and her passion led her to pursue a degree in applied mathematics at UC Berkeley. And there she also developed a passion for tutoring after becoming a mentor at an after school program for middle schoolers called Young Adult Project.

And her math tutoring expertise now is in subjects like elementary [00:03:00] math, geometry, And algebra. So super awesome. I’m really excited to hear about all your, your knowledge and your expertise.

So to get started, can you talk a little bit about how you got into math and what you love about it?

Montserrat: Oh, well, when I started, well, I did all my education, like you mentioned, like in Mexico.

I wasn’t really, really interested in math until I was in high school. And I remember going to middle school, I really did not like math. And I think it was Because in high school, I had great teachers that made me see the topic in the sense of getting like it expanded the knowledge of getting to solve a problem as best as you can, and they give you all the tools and they actually, like and I [00:04:00] didn’t really know what, because I thought I was going to do actually my university in Mexico, so it wasn’t nothing that really like fit exactly. So when I had the chance to like move to the States. Well, I was, I had the possibility to just study math and I went for it.

Kaitlin: That’s so awesome. And now, so you kind of, you know, Became you were a student of math and then obviously now are more on the educator side.

What do you like about working with students in this subject?

And maybe what’s your favorite age to work with too? I’m curious.

Montserrat: So I’ve been good at math, but I really, really see, like, if you want to be, you know, your math until you teach math, because it’s very, very different knowing. That explaining something, like, getting to know where does the thing come from?

Where does the concept come from [00:05:00] and explain to somebody. It’s a whole different thing, so I would say. It has taught me to, to try to express the topic. According to the age, right? So I’ll see the difference of like with elementary kids. I will have to go back back to the basics, which, which at the beginning wasn’t easy for me.

It was like, oh, how can I get them to understand the simple thing that I know? Right? When it comes to higher grades if their background in math has been, like, and then standardize, then it’s easy to just say, well, this is a property and I, I can explain how this made this. So yeah, I feel like my best, I will say between elementary and high school, because for elementary is getting to the basics and then when they get it, it’s very like cute and nice.

Right. And for high school is because it comes from like my. [00:06:00] My geeky side of like being excited to be like, Oh, yes, algebra and I can like explain all the properties and I can tell like I enjoy it in both ways. I would say that would be my, my favorite between high school or elementary.

Kaitlin: That’s great. Okay.

Math crisis

And then so this will, I think you’ll have very interesting perspective on this. Then so this summer we heard about. The impact of the of the COVID pandemic had a huge, well, it had a huge impact on students, math scores and math knowledge. And that kind of came out and a little bit felt like it kind of shocked everyone.

But just some stats to share for people listening. This is from an AP news article. So on average students’ math knowledge is about half a school year behind where it should be according to education analysts. Another one, 4th and 8th grade math scores slipped to the lowest levels in about 20 years, [00:07:00] even lower than reading and literacy scores.

And finally, post-pandemic math scores dropped by 5 percentage points for white students compared with 13 points for Black students and 8 points for Hispanic students. So, a lot of change a lot of work to be done to make up for all of all of those stats and the current state of math. So what’s your perspective you know, on this situation in general?

Montserrat: I feel like maybe if the United States had a crisis in math before the pandemic made it even worse, honestly, because I haven’t been encountered with my students and like the, the students that I teach in and lesson felt that they have come to tutoring because they were falling behind due to the pandemic.

So is that the basic Yeah. And like, foundation, so they will have an earlier [00:08:00] ages. They’re starting to slip away when they’re getting into their higher grades. For example, I have 1 student last. Yeah, not good thing like three months ago, which the parent was like, it’s because of the pandemic. This is why we’re here.

She needs to get like everything that the basics get done in order to move forward. So it’s it’s good. The parents are also like reaching out online resources to try to like regularize the kids, right? Because it’s not only like teachers or educators To be like, pull the pressure on how they learn, but also, like, especially during, like, everything that happened with the pandemic.

Like, extra resources will have to to be like, available. Right. And like, doing it so, like, like, easily a practical, like, online now that everybody’s even having their Chromebooks in schools. So it makes it a little bit easier to. [00:09:00] To, like, yeah, get more knowledge, right? Get regularized in that sense. So from my experience, I would say that I have seen it in students that, like, how they fall behind and sometimes, like, even, like, middle school going to high school, the very basics of, say, maybe a percentage ratios, proportions, they, they’re not able to understand it and I think it comes because of that, right?

So. Yeah.

Kaitlin: Wow. Yeah. And what I was going to ask this later, but you mentioned kind of learning online and I’m wondering, you know, post pandemic, we kind of saw the Zoom burnout or the online burnout kind of ironic. Now we’re, you know, we’re meeting on Zoom. So it is, it is great. But how. Have, have you seen any, you know, changes in your students, or are they still engaged online, and

how do [00:10:00] you keep them engaged learning math?

Because that, that’s, I would assume, harder than some other subjects to tutor over video.

Montserrat: Right, yeah. Well, I would say… I think they have become very knowledgeable on using zoom, even some students better than their parents and the sense of like managing the tools and everything to get them engaged.

I learned very quickly that I had to do something still online. So, like, doing physical whiteboards is kind of difficult, especially with the focusing and everything. So I decided to use an online whiteboard that I can share. Either I have been using zoom or other like online meeting platforms and that’s how I can keep them engaged.

So I try to use all the colors that I can, if they’re like smaller ages, I also tutor Spanish, so I remember when Spanish, I, like, created, like, Google Docs that it had, like. Either songs [00:11:00] or something, so I have links and everything. So that’s why another way to keep them engaged right to prepare what in order to prepare the lesson.

I keep in mind. What am I teaching? Right? So, if I’m doing math. The most practical and I think useful way will be doing it like through the whiteboard. And if I do the Spanish, it’s easier to like, have presentation forms. So I’d either use like PowerPoint or maybe Google Docs. So that’s how I manage.

Kaitlin: Gotcha. Great. And then going kind of backtracking a little bit back to the math crisis. So I also read in the same AP News article. This is a quote here, just kind of in terms of the solutions or, you know, what now? So using federal pandemic relief money, some schools have added tutors going off of that, what are your thoughts in terms of how. [00:12:00] Everyone. So we mentioned parents, we mentioned educate educators, mentioned tutors.

How can we all help address the situation and work towards some solutions?

Montserrat: I think our schools have become more like you say, more aware of the problem. So they have implemented depending on the district, right? They have implemented health for for students in the sense of getting them like Chromebooks, for example Currently i’m i’m working at a in an elementary school.

So I see like the Ability that they have towards different types of online learning tools that they have in their hands as well as Like extra help right either in after school programs or during class as well. So I think they have done a very great job. Like I said, depends on the district, but they have, they’re taking hands on the matter.

So they’re [00:13:00] trying to make a change. So hopefully that. That does impact to the better, right? If students and educators take advantage of those tools it could, I think it might be regular, regularized at least at what it used to, right?

Kaitlin: I don’t know how long it would take, but yeah. Yeah I’m sure, I mean, I’m sure it’ll take time, but it seems like there are a lot of, you know, even with the talk of AI and new innovative technology I’m sure something will be created soon, you know, that’ll help this situation and help teachers and help parents and students.

And so, you know, there’s, there’s always hope.

Montserrat: I feel like will be the, like, getting well in person, the technology and taking full advantage of it. Like, we’re stepping up to the [00:14:00] new, like era right of learning as well, which to the bad thing with the pandemic it came the more like the other side of the coin right which it was like now having these tools that we can take into our into our hands, right?

Kaitlin: Mm hmm, definitely. And I guess it also came out this summer. I’m not sure about other states, but I know in California, for example, the State Board of Education. Released and adopted a new math framework and. Honestly, I’m not sure about all the details, but I know that now it emphasizes more problem solving, contextualizing problems and kind of making them almost more relatable to students lives rather than, you know, starting with the basic algorithm.

So what can you, you know, talk to about that new framework? Have you kind of seen changes in [00:15:00] your students work so far this school year?

Montserrat: I think it made them, well, I will also agree with you in more of like either California, New York, that I have worked with students in both the states that They this new new way of framework.

It does allow them to give them more like critical thinking abilities that otherwise they might not like you said the algorithm or maybe like back in my days. I remember they just say, okay, do this and this to get your answer. And now it’s more of like, think different ways that you can solve it.

How can you break it down? How can you regroup? How can you do placement and taking, like, number placement and taking to your advantage? So, I feel like it does have, it has become, like, a more impactful tool, which I, some people might disagree and might not like, and some others. They might [00:16:00] do, and I’m kind of in the middle, like I should be a middle ground where yes is very helpful to give them the freedom to like problem solve, but also it should be taught like the algorithm way as well, because at the end of the day.

It, it does make it a little bit easier to manage, but I feel like introducing in the sense of like, do like critical thinking and like, how do you solve it? It allows the student to engage at least because before if you just see numbers, you’re like, no, like, what do I do with that? Right. So at least here are kind of related, like you said.

Kaitlin: So, yeah, yeah, that I guess that kind of helps students connect a bit more and hopefully gets them a little more excited about math. I feel like there is kind of a stereotype of around math of that it’s really hard. It’s really difficult or the, you know, the, you hear the phrase all the time. I’m bad at math.

I’m not a math [00:17:00] person.

How do you think we can help students, especially younger kids, you know, grow up with a mindset that’s positive towards math?

Montserrat: That’s a good one. So I would say maybe like little students, if they feel like, oh, I’m getting this wrong, then I’m bad at it. Try to like en encourage the kid to make the mistakes and like, try other ways to find solutions. Don’t limit them as like, oh, this is not right, this is like maybe. As a parent or an educator or so grownups, right? We’re like, oh, that’s not the answer.

That’s wrong, right? Well, instead of like saying that like a better approach will be like, Oh, how do you got to that answer? Right. I’ll explain it like what one went through your head. And actually, there’s something that they have been implementing and some elementary schools, [00:18:00] which is the like CGI, which it covers that mentality.

It’s like cognitive and guided instruction, which it allows our freedom for the kid to do that to like, Instead of like just limiting a like wrong or right or wrong is is like give them like that flexibility of like them being the critical thing. So maybe that it makes them like be interested about it and like maybe be more having a higher like confidence when it comes to math because I think like they might say, oh, I’m bad at math is because they hear that rhetoric.

Right? Either from other students or from grownups. So yeah, you need like, in order to be good at things, you have to try and continue trying to become better. Right. So this is something that maybe we can help little kids.

Kaitlin: Right. Definitely. Yeah. More of a growth mindset. It’s totally normal to fail and, and have it be hard, but that’s how, you know, that’s how you learn.

And [00:19:00] eventually you can get better, especially with, with support. So yeah, it’ll be really interesting, I guess, to see. Even after this year, next year how students respond to that new framework in California and new updates across the country too.

How do, how would you recommend parents stay updated on new curriculum and these new ways of teaching?

Cause I’m sure, you know, right now students just started school. Elementary school kids are coming home with math homework and it’s this new math. But parents have never seen before because they didn’t learn that way.

So what are some tips that maybe you, you, you’ve used or advice you give to parents about how to stay up to date to be able to help their kids with homework at home?

Montserrat: That’s good. So I would say besides like approaching, right instructors or like teachers about what they’re seeing, [00:20:00] right? So they’re at least familiarized of like what the curriculum is about. Is go online and videos like that’s my advice, right? Sometimes it’s like the maybe. The like getting to know the new way of teaching right so if it’s coming for what is come for like what’s the difference.

How is it breaking it down, like to get you know where does it come from, because sometimes also like us grown ups we were like oh I don’t understand that so why would I learn it right so instead of that if you want to make a change to help your, your kid maybe trying to do a little bit of research in video wise it’s easier or more like engaging for you, you can do so because I can say like keep on with articles, but sometimes we don’t have time for that, right?

So trying to make it a little bit easier for, for parents. I would say keep on on touch with the, [00:21:00] with the, with the teacher so they know where they at and try to like maybe research a little bit on the top. If they find an article and then just skim through them, that’s, that’s helpful for them as well. But yeah.

Kaitlin: Great. And are there any outside resources or games that you know of or that you use? I know in I know of Kahoot, for example. I love Kahoot.

So are there any engaging platforms like that or games that you can recommend to parents?

Montserrat: Boddle. So Boddle is pretty cool. Boddle is I think it’s meant more for elementary.

And it’s like a little like avatar that it can battle and it’s like in a little bottle like like water bottle type of thing. I think that’s why they name it like that. So if Like the tutor or the, the [00:22:00] parent, they create a, they, they choose the grade that they want to learn and also like the state that they’re in, which is, is pretty cool.

They can use Texas, Texas standards or California common core. It allows you to choose like the topics that they want to be tested on. And then they can assign it to the, to the student, and then the student can either play with it, like, use, like, doing the battles, or they can do, like, quiz quiz mode, which is just answering.

So every time they give I think it’s knowledge points, which is a little, like like, drop of water, or they get coins. So they can be engaged. I think Prodigy. I heard a Prodigy, which is another one. I don’t know how like that one is more like a type of Zelda type of thing fighting the monsters. So that’s pretty engaging.

What else?

Yeah, I think those ones I heard I [00:23:00] ready, but I don’t know if that’s only in California. And that one is more of like the in classroom type of victim. But I think Boddle, Prodigy, those are pretty cool.

Kaitlin: Cool, cool. And with your students, I’m curious to know, maybe we can stick with elementary age.

What do you see most students struggle with? Like, is there a certain aspect of math that they struggle with?

Maybe fractions anything like that, that you see as a pattern.

Montserrat: As a pattern, I see yeah, students, they struggle a lot with fractions, understanding, like, the different ways to do the operations on, on fractions, like addition, subtraction.

I think. Once you get the 1 students get the grass on addition subtraction, they should be good for multiplication and division. But, like, I think the 1st, like, mindset [00:24:00] that they have is that fractions are very hard. Right so they already blocked their, their minds on that decimals also, like, if they don’t know, like, the placement that come.

From each number. Understanding decimals is kind of hard for them as well. For sure division. I don’t know why division, but it is kind of hard for them. And when it comes to like multiplication either they need to practice a lot in their times tables or they need to get to understand where does multiplication come from.

So that way if they don’t memorize their times tables, they’re able to get to the answer as well. So understanding that other ways to just instead of just memorize and it would be maybe counting by every couple like understand that for example, the five times table is just counting by fives. Right? So they understand like, they will be adding adding each time.

So when it comes [00:25:00] to middle school, I would say proportions and like percentages. They struggle a lot with that sometimes because if you don’t understand one, then it’s difficult for the other, which is like, kind of like, if you don’t understand rates, there were ratios, you’re not going to understand rates, then you’re not going to understand proportion.

Kaitlin: It all kind of carries over.

Montserrat: And for like in high school, and if I have, when I have taught algebra, remembering properties. Or like understanding where the properties come from, especially if they’re doing exponents or if they’re doing different types of algebraic properties, like commutative, associative, distributive, that’s kind of like for them to understand and sometimes they struggle.

And I think because it comes along hand with integers, so if they don’t understand, like how to operate integers, it’s kind of [00:26:00] hard for them to also do the algebra. Yeah.

Kaitlin: And are there any signs, I guess, at the point that you’re working with students, parents, or maybe, maybe the student has asked for help already, but parents have kind of intervened a little bit and said, okay, we’re going to get you a tutor.

But for maybe some students that are struggling. What are some signs, maybe that parents can look out for in order to. Then get a tutor if that makes sense.

Like at what point should parents be like, okay, I think my kid needs some extra support?

Montserrat: Yeah When I see parents come in and then like Sign their their kids for for lessons. It would be [00:27:00] when They’re in maybe they’re aware of the curriculum the parent, right? And they see that their kids cannot do the, the, like any of the basics, so they’re falling behind, right? I think that’s a, a good way. Like, if you are engaged on, on like what they’re learning then seeing how they’re doing maybe in the homework, right?

And they’re, they’re like falling a little bit off. That’s a good way to start approaching. That’s if they’re falling behind. Some, some parents just they do the lessons to, to even help their, their kid improve even more. Because I have gotten students that, I know that they’re very, very well, well capable of doing their work.

Maybe it’s just a little, like, hand on hand, like, going alongside them. And maybe getting to, like, help them even a step further. So if they’re already like in the normalized or [00:28:00] standardized way, go beyond. Like what are you going to see next lesson? So they want to go ahead. So I have this like the two types where the tutoring comes hand on hand.

Either if they want, if they’re falling behind, they need the extra help or whether they want to excel. Even more, right?

Kaitlin: Totally. That’s, that’s a, a huge misconception with tutoring too, that only students that are struggling need tutoring. You’d be surprised. Yeah, no, definitely. It’s a lot of you know, any extra support.

There are a lot of statistics that show one on one Mentorship and tutoring really carries students above, you know, students that don’t get that one on one attention. So that’s actually a great segue because I was going to ask for students that are either, you know, math gifted. Some people say they’re just really good with.

At math, it clicks for them.

What are some ways to foster that [strength in math]?

And what are some [00:29:00] maybe long term careers or jobs where people really use math and it’s it’s great for, for those students?

Montserrat: Good way to foster, like to not get them to lose the interest on it.

Kaitlin: Yeah. Or ways, ways to kind of build on their strengths.

Like, do you know? Maybe some of your students are in, I don’t know, extra programs or their competitions or yeah, ways to kind of ways to get them practicing math, but in, in different ways and more creative ways building on their strengths, things like that.

Montserrat: So like maybe if they’re, if they’re in a school where they were able to like be more involved in math, for example, like extracurricular Like groups that they have the same, like other students have the same passion of it.

That’s a good way to have fun, right? It’s like joining a [00:30:00] club or joining a like like be part of a team. So I feel like that’s a way to be more engaged. If the student likes to be challenged, always like, I would recommend for them to take AP courses if they’re well, like, I know I’m already like good.

Like then challenge yourself even more, right? Not to a point of like burnout or nothing like that, but like that way they can be kept engaged and they can be like, Oh, I know I’m good at this. And sometimes students, I have seen it, they’re very good at math and either they stay and say, Oh, I like math and I want to learn more about it.

Or, how can I apply my math, right? And that’s how they start engaging with other topics that the the math goes hand on hand. Like, if you want to do physics, or engineering, or computer science, so that’s a good way. So not only do the math, but if you can apply it it’s pretty cool. So, yes, I have had students who…

They’re very good, good and mad. They have taken AP courses [00:31:00] and they fall for physics. For example, they have not even taken physics, but because they had their math knowledge and they, they got it. Right. So they did buy books

and they research and look at videos. So that’s how they got it. Right. Yeah.

Kaitlin: Okay. Great. Super cool. Also, I’m, I’m wondering because you, you majored in applied mathematics.

What is applied mathematics?

Montserrat: So, at Berkeley, applied mathematics is the difference between, between pure mathematics and applied mathematics is literally the Where are you going to focus your math on, right?

Because pure mathematics it was more of the get very deep in the nitty gritty of what math is based on proofs and theorems, and like, go even further in all the [00:32:00] math that you can get. While you still get the same, like, like, curriculum in applied math, but then you focus it in a subject. For, so for me, I had options to choose from.

I know there was economics, computer science, I could do physics, or like a, like maybe a little group on, within engineering. So it’s just where are you going to focus your math? I did mine in economics.

Kaitlin: Yeah. Okay. All right. Interesting. That was, that was helpful. Thanks. All right. I think that’s all the questions that I have for you.

Do you have any last pieces of advice, or any last “Knowledge Bytes” that you want to leave listeners?

Montserrat: I would say, now that you mentioned about how like kids or maybe other students feel about math, I would say, give it a chance. [00:33:00] If you don’t, like, try not to block yourself on the idea that it’s hard.

Maybe just try to do your best and you’re going to find somebody, some educator who is going to help you even go further. I feel like in life we always need people who are going to push you to go further if you like. If you have a mentality that it’s going to, like, it was going to help you grow, take advantage of that.

So don’t block yourself if that’s-sometimes it’s hard, but yeah, yeah.

Kaitlin: Yeah. Sometimes it can be hard, but it’s important too. That’s how, that’s how we grow. So that’s great advice. I love it.

Okay. And last but not least.

Where can listeners find you if they, you know, have questions about math, they want lessons, where can they find you?

Yeah, they can find me through in Lessonpal Montserrat [00:34:00] Gomez that I’m there and yeah, that’s where they can find me.

Great. Yeah, I’ll link your profile in the video and on the, in the podcast description. So if anyone’s interested, you can find Montserrat there. And thanks again. This was a great conversation.

Thanks for your perspective and insight. And have a great rest of your evening.

Montserrat: Thank you, thank you. Glad to share. It’s a knowledge bite.

Kaitlin: Thanks so much for listening to Knowledge Bytes. If you found this podcast valuable, please share a review and share it with a friend. Also, make sure you follow or subscribe wherever you’re listening to avoid missing any of our weekly episodes.

To get more episode content, you can follow Lessonpal on social media. Again, thanks for listening and see you next time.


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