Math Academy

Program Philosophy
Feature and Benefits
Get More Info
How to Enroll

The Santa Cruz Mathematics Academy is an integrated,accelerated math program for motivated students. The first year of the course, taken in the freshman year, covers the curriculum for Algebra 1and Geometry in their entirety, and topics from transformational geometry, probability, statistics, advanced algebra, and trigonometry.The second year of the course, taken in the sophomore year, covers the curriculum for Advanced Algebra, Trigonometry, Analytic Geometry,Introduction to Calculus, and Statistics. Students who successfully complete this two year program will be prepared for our Advanced Placement BC Calculus class in their junior year. Math options for senior year include AP Statistics, UCSC math classes, and Cabrillo math classes.

The freshman and sophomore Math Academy classes are year long, in contrast to traditional math classes in the Excel Schedule that are only one semester long. If a student successfully completes Math Academy Year 1 but does not wish to complete Year 2, they will enroll in a traditional Algebra 2 class in their sophomore year.

Classes are 15 minutes longer than a regular period (105 minutes long),with first period Math Academy classes starting at 7:45AM and third period Math Academy classes extending into break and lunch.


The Math Academy curriculum is designed so that the students learn the mathematics in the context of solving problems. The students are often presented with a problem to be solved and then learn the mathematical concepts that are needed to answer the question. These topics might involve four or five different ideas. This is the opposite of the way most traditional classes are run where students learn mathematical topics step by step and then sometimes are presented with problems where they can apply these topics.

Students are primarily working together in groups. The teacher works more as a coach than as a disseminator of ideas. The groups often develop the concepts together which should lead to increased ownership of ideas and better retention. Students also meet with study groups outside of class. Working together rather than in isolation is a more efficient way to learn difficult mathematics.

Features and Benefits

Preparation for AP Classes

One of the goals of Math Academy is to prepare students for the Advanced Placement Calculus class. We have an unusually high passing rate on the AP Calculus tests with most years having 100% pass with a score of 3or higher. The highest score is a 5 and the majority of our students get 4s and 5s. (Last year out of 23 students in the BC Class, 21students got fives and two students got fours.) We have recently added an AP Statistics class to our offerings and the math academy students are also extraordinarily well prepared for that class. Over the past two years that we have offered AP Statistics, 100% of the students who had math academy have passed with either a four or a five.

Group Work
Students spend the majority of class time working in groups. They are asked to solve a variety of problems and are responsible for learning a lot of the material on their own. They must often complete hands on activities and must learn cooperative skills to complete their tasks.

“It gave me a chance to have someone explain whatever to me slowly so I got it.”
“I really learned how to work with others and cooperate just like in the real world”

The use of groups is an important aspect of the Mathematics Academy for it allows the students to help each other and receive more attention than they would otherwise be able to receive from one instructor. It also develops important “soft skills” necessary for the workplace such as communication skills and the ability to work with people from various backgrounds.

Writing Assignments
In addition to homework, classwork, tests, and quizzes, students complete weekly challenges, portfolios, and long term projects.

  • The weekly challenges provide students with the opportunity for divergent thinking. They get to work on problems for an extended length of time and learn persistence in problem solving. They must write about their thought process and present their processes to the class. A multitude of skills are learned through the weekly challenges.

  • Upon completion of each unit, students are asked to write a summary of the concepts that were presented in the unit. They are to write about the connections between the ideas of the unit and how the ideas were developed. Students often find this helpful to see the big picture of the unit and how the different ideas that were presented are related.

  • Each semester, students are asked to choose a mathematical topic and do a research report on it. The projects allow students to become “experts” in a field that they find interesting. The students then become teachers to enlighten their fellow students on their topic of choice. Most of their research is done independently and they must complete both written and oral presentations of their project.

Challenging Curriculum
Many students do not find their middle school mathematics classes to be very challenging. In the Mathematics Academy, students learn that math isn’t always easy.

“I thought math was fun and easy. Now I think it is still enjoyable and very hard, but I do still enjoy it.”

When most students are faced with high expectations, they rise to the challenge. The Mathematics Academy offers these students a real challenge and pushes them in many ways.

Hard Work, High Expectations
There are a lot of demands on the students and most of them struggle at some point to master the concepts presented. A number of students report that one of the things that they learned from the program was how to work hard.

“I give myself higher expectations on myself and work harder. It’s raised grades in other classes. I used to not even care about grades and now I’m trying a lot harder.”

Time Management
Many students also report that they had to learn how to budget their time in order to accomplish all that was asked of them. This is an important skill that will serve them well in years to come.

A large part of the curriculum is centered upon the idea that students must create their own understanding of the mathematics. The ability to think and learn independently is an oft overlooked skill in the traditional “spoon feeding” approach to teaching mathematics.

“I’ve improved immensely in learning to think for myself. I’ve felt my actual thought processes changing to reflect the different approaches I’ve learned to utilize in the class.”

Communication Skills
Another large component of the class is the necessity for the students to be able to communicate their ideas clearly in both written and verbal form. The majority of the students report that they found student presentations to be enjoyable and highly valuable. Most students report that they believe that they are stronger than their non-Academy peers in their oral presentation skills and their written communication skills. Many of the students develop outstanding presentation skills that will be useful to them in many areas.

Increased Confidence
Being forced to make presentations to the class is scary but the supportive atmosphere allows students to gain confidence and eventually to become comfortable with public speaking.

”Probably my greatest achievement in Mathematics Academy is the fact that now I can stand up in front of any class and give a presentation without getting nervous. When I came in, my hands would be literally shaking if I was in front of the class, but now I can handle it.”

Students also reported that their confidence in their mathematical ability increased through the program.

Appreciation of Mathematics
Through hard work in a rich curriculum, many students find that their enjoyment of mathematics has increased as a result of their participation in the Mathematics Academy.

“I began to think of things beyond simply the what and more of the why which I think is what is really interesting about math.”

Technology - Graphing Calculators
Students spend a lot of time learning how to use their graphing calculators as a tool to solve problems. Some students explore the aspect of programming the calculators on their own time outside of class. Their facility with the calculators will give them an advantage in classes where such technology is used such as AP Calculus where facility with a graphing calculator is mandatory.

Problem Solving Confidence
Other teachers report that Mathematics Academy students are not afraid to dive into the solving of a problem. Many traditionally taught students to have the attitude that “word problems” are too hard and are not really math. Mathematics Academy students understand that any applied mathematics is a word problem and that there are a variety of problem solving techniques available to solving real problems.

Students report that they believe their long term, large scale problem solving abilities are stronger or much stronger than that of their non-Academy peers.

Students are given problems that can’t always be solved in a short amount of time. They need to learn how to work on problems for extended time periods and most of them develop a tenacity in problem solving.Anecdotal teacher reports support this observation that compared to other non-Academy students, they are more willing to attack and stay with a problem for a longer period of time.

Transfer of Skills to Other Classes
Many of the skills that are developed in Mathematics Academy are transferable to other classes. The ability to learn independently, the ability to work well in groups, the ability to understand difficult concepts, the ability to communicate orally and in written form, the ability to focus on a lengthy lecture, the ability to use a wide variety of problem solving techniques and to solve long term, large scale problems are all items that the majority of Mathematics Academy students report that they were stronger than their non-Academy peers.

Students who complete Math Academy often speak about the camaraderie that they share with their fellow students. They enjoy the fact that the class is made up of students of a similar bent to study mathematics.They like being in the same class with the same students and the same teacher and feel a sense of family that usually lasts through their APCalculus class and beyond.

How to Enroll/Get More Info

All incoming freshman will be invited to a Math Academy Presentation during the spring of their eighth grade year. Interested students will be encouraged to apply to the Math Academy, which entails the completion of a written exam.

Link to online application for Math Academy

For more information on the Math Academy, contact teacher Stuart Kumaishi.

Contact: S. Kumaishi