It’s a fact that most kids do not like math. Or more accurately, they fear it and are confused by it. At Mathnasium, a franchise of learning centers throughout the country, their goal is to boost children’s math skills, understanding of math concepts, and overall school performance, while building confidence and forging a positive attitude toward the subject.
They are highly specialized; they teach only math. Members usually attend two or three times a week for about an hour.
Robert Bernstein operates a Mathnasium franchise in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. He was a math major at Syracuse University who went on to work on Wall Street forCitiGroup. In 2001, Bernstein lost his twin brother, who worked for Cantor Fitzgerald, when the World Trade Center was attacked on 9/11. Afterwards, he found working in lower Manhattan too painful, so in 2008, when Wall Street downsized, he took a retirement package. Knowing he wanted to do something involving math, such as working with kids, he explored opportunities that would allow him to utilize his skill set, and that’s when he discovered Mathnasium and decided to purchase his franchise.
I recently spoke with Bernstein about Mathnasium.
JV: Tell us about the origins of Mathnasium.
RB: Mathnasium is over ten years old, and there was a gentleman named Larry Martinek and he had a son who was really brilliant in math and Larry was brilliant in math, and he was helping his son learn math, and his son said,“You know, we really should formalize this to help other kids with math.” And tragically – and I don’t remember the whole story exactly – but I think his son died in a car accident when he was like sixteen or fifteen or something. And so Larry, as a tribute to his son, decided to follow through on his commitment to his son to formalize this math process. It’s what we call the Mathnasium Method – how to learn math the right way…
Larry [then] found these two partners who were interested in creating a mechanism to get this out to people through a business. So this guy Peter and this guy David – I think they were the ones that funded everything – Larry was the educational person. They actually formalized everything and created a company, and it was successful and they started selling franchises. When I purchased my franchise in 2011, there were about 185 of them and now there’s close to 400. So the company has really done well.
JV: So they are throughout the country?
RB: Yes. They were founded in California, and they were very popular on the West Coast, and then they started spreading east, and we now have Mathnasiums in Queens, Staten Island, Brooklyn, Manhattan, New Jersey, Long Island, and there are a whole bunch in the Midwest and on the West Coast. And there’s even some international branches.
JV: Why do you think children are afraid or intimidated by math?
RB: I think that when kids don’t understand something it scares them. When they learn it and understand it, it’s not scary anymore. And what’s happening is that kids [are] just learning in school how to give an answer and they’re not really learning with understanding. It doesn’t make sense to them. They either plug in a formula or they copy a procedure, and they’re not really learning math the way they should. They’re learning it in a big group, everybody’s going at the same pace, they’re not getting much individual attention, and they’re being pushed on, even if they’re not ready, to the next grade. So math is a subject that builds on itself. If you don’t have a strong foundation in math, every time you go higher in the process it’s only going to get more difficult.
JV: Mathnasium’s foundation is based on the “Mathnasium Method.” Can you elaborate on that?
RB: First of all, the Mathnasium Method is comprised of a few things. It’s not classes, it’s not group instruction. It’s individual attention. Secondly, we teach math with understanding – why and how to do things. And why it makes sense. We just don’t use paper and pencil. We use demonstrative things, physical items as well. We go at the child’s pace. And we make sure it makes sense to them. And we have really, really good tools and ways of teaching to reinforce those things. The Mathnasium Method has different procedures for how to teach different concepts that’s been developed by Larry. So we just don’t teach them like they do in school systematic things…
We have a really good way of explaining different concepts. And, like I said, we make sure it makes sense to them before we move on to the next topic. We test them, we assess them, we figure out for their age and their grade what they’re deficient in and what they need to know… Everybody has a customized learning plan. No two kids have the same learning plan. So it’s really individualized. And we retest every two months to show the improvement. Everyone improves – it’s just a matter of what rate they improve at. The most important thing to improving is coming regularly. It’s like joining a gym – if you join a gym and you don’t go, you’re not going to see your body change.
JV: What do you say to those who say that aside from basic adding and subtracting, math is not really useful in everyday life?
RB: Everything today involves math, including other subjects like sciences and things. Just think of all the applications that you are faced with as a young person or an adult. If you want to go into a store and something’s on sale – if you don’t know percent and have good math skills, you’re not going to make the best buying decisions. If you want to get a credit card, if you want to open up a checking account, if you want to start a business, if you want to do your taxes, if you want to buy a car – everything today involves math. And just because things are computerized doesn’t mean that their math is always correct. So math is a lifelong skill. It’s not just something to get through in school and you’re not going to use it again… I’ve personally have saved tens of thousands of dollars in my life because no one can get by me or take advantage of me – I make the best buying decisions because I know how to figure things out.
To find a Mathnasium near you, go online to www.mathnasium.com and enter your zip code.