CSUN Supports Summer ‘Cultural’ Math Camp

Culturally Based Algebra Camp

Pastor James Thomas, one of the directors of the Culturally Based Algebra Camp, instructs students during the program. Photo by Nestor Garcia.

African people were the first in the world to use counting to keep track of their things: Egyptians used hieroglyphs to write large numbers and geometry to build the pyramids, and a North African mathematician developed the modern way of writing fractions.

These and other facts are just some of the cultural history taught in the Culturally Based Algebra Camp, co-sponsored by California State University, Northridge and the Department of Africana Studies. These and other nuggets of information are intertwined into the curriculum of the six-week summer program as part of its “culturally responsive pedagogy.” Culturally responsive teaching is an approach that uses students’ cultural knowledge as a conduit to facilitate the teaching-learning process.

“Our goal is to help cultivate black academic excellence, one student at a time,” said Pastor James Thomas, one of the program’s founders and its cultural teacher. “Students are motivated to learn when they discover that their ancestors were more than just slaves.

Students learn math with dance and music.

Campers learn algebraic equations using dance and music. Photo by Victor Kamont.

The program is primarily geared toward African-American students in grades one through 12 who reside in the San Fernando Valley. It offers a range of math courses and a culturally based curriculum designed to enhance student skills and success, at no cost to the participant. In addition to studying math and algebra, the students participate in workshops such as college preparedness, advocacy/conflict resolution and dance in math, which uses popular music and dance moves to help students memorize algebraic operations.

Thomas said the goal of the program is to offer a math curriculum that will foster high academic achievement and improve college readiness among African-American students.

The program is being held at CSUN for the third year in conjunction with Living Word Church, which conceived the program and provides the instructional curriculum and credentialed instructors. It is partially funded by a grant from the CSU Summer Algebra Institute and has received university support through the divisions of Academic Affairs and Student Affairs, as well as the CSUN Black Alumni Association.

“The Culturally Based Algebra Camp is unique from similar efforts by other CSU campuses in that the program is conducted on our campus versus at a local church, thereby providing students with an introduction to a college campus,” said William Watkins ’74 (Urban Studies), CSUN’s vice president of student affairs and dean of students. “The camp holds great promise as a model for how the university can effectively partner with community organizations, to improve the educational prospects of traditionally underserved students.”