During the 2013-2014 academic year, Jason and Sandy Roberts were asked to coach their son's 4th-grade Math Field Day team at McKinley School. After developing their students' problem-solving skills and filling the gaps in their grade-level knowledge, the students' questions naturally expanded the discussion to include content normally reserved for the higher grade levels, and by the end of the year, the students had managed to learn most of the material found in prealgebra.
The following year, Jason and Sandy were given an opportunity to teach this same group of kids in the form of a three-day-per-week pull-out enrichment class. Given what they had already learned, the next logical step was algebra, which, due to their enthusiasm, they managed to master by winter break. Continuing on, the class delved into numerous topics in algebra II, geometry, functions, trigonometry, combinatorics, sequences and series, and even a little bit of calculus.
The next big step came when the superintendent, Dr. McDonald, made a surprise visit on the last day of class. Being a former math teacher himself, he was shocked at what he saw: 10- and 11-year-old kids competently and enthusiastically solving problems that most high school students would find challenging. It was at this point that Dr. McDonald asked Jason and Sandy if they would help him to create a district pilot based on their model. Together, they spent the next year formulating a program structure that would scale, yet enjoy the same level of success as the original class. There were obstacles to overcome of every kind, but after numerous delays and false starts a workable plan had come into focus.
Meanwhile, Jason continued to push forward with the original group of students (now 6th graders), with the addition of a handful of the school's top 7th- and 8th-grade math students who were given a chance to test into the class. That year, they covered pre-calculus topics such as trigonometric, exponential, and logarithmic functions, vectors and matrices, and probability, but more interestingly, Jason taught the students proof-based mathematics, a subject typically reserved for undergraduate math majors. And as it turned out, being able to showcase 6th graders doing proof-based mathematics was exactly what was needed to attract a Ph.D. mathematician as the program's first full-time instructor.
The 2016-2017 academic year saw the kickoff of the Math Academy pilot, which debuted with 5th-grade-grade classes at McKinley and Sierra Madre Elementary School, 6th-grade classes at McKinley, Sierra Madre Middle School, and Washington Middle School, and a 7th-grade class at McKinley (Jason's original group). While all of the classes were even more successful than imagined, proving that the model was indeed scalable, it became clear that starting the program in 6th-grade made a lot more sense. Attempting to expand the program to the 5th grades of even half of the district's 18 elementary schools would be both financially and logistically intractable.
This year is when Math Academy comes into its own. With the addition of an experienced and acclaimed AP Calculus teacher as the program's second instructor there are now 6th- and 7th-grade classes at the three middle schools and an 8th-grade class at McKinley. While in previous years the classes were either pull-outs or electives, the middle-school courses have now been approved by the PUSD board as sequenced courses and by the University of California as satisfying a-g requirements. The focus is now on solidifying the program at the middle-school level and planning out the optimal curriculum and structure for the high school program.
Meet the Math Academy Team
Jason majored in mathematics at the University of Chicago with plans of becoming a mathematician but got sidetracked into launching technology startups and building high-frequency trading systems. Not wanting to leave Pasadena for San Francisco, he infamously turned down the CTO position at Uber but instead opting to work as a consultant, designed and developed much of the company's original real-time technology, their global "air traffic control" and other foundational technologies. In addition to working on Math Academy, Jason spends his time advising startups and Fortune 500 companies on their technology strategy and product roadmaps.
Sandy has spent the last ten years on non-profit boards focusing on governance, management and fundraising. She has been a member of the board, and held leadership positions, for the Junior League of Pasadena, Young & Healthy and Pasadena Educational Foundation. She has chaired large event fundraisers for these organizations for the last five years which have brought in well over a million dollars for worthy causes. Sandy got her undergrad degree in Economics from the University of Chicago and has always loved math. She and her husband, Jason, have three busy kids, the oldest of whom is in the Math Academy program.
Our Board of Advisors
The Foundation supports the study of the works and life of Lord Bacon and seeks to encourage scholarship having to do with him, his times, and his influence on chiefly science, law, political theory, and literature. The Foundation does so in part by underwriting lectures and other scholarly activities related to Bacon. More recently the Foundation has focused its support upon schools, colleges, universities, and research institutions in southern California, the intention being to disseminate a knowledge of Lord Bacon and to encourage the advancement of learning in those areas upon which he has had an enduring influence.
The Pasadena Community Foundation helps donors maximize the impact of their charitable contributions — strengthening the community, preserving cultural resources, and assisting those in need. PCF is proud to support the Math Academy through the Fefferman Initiative.
Pasadena Educational Foundation
At the Pasadena Educational Foundation (PEF) we believe strong schools build strong communities. For more than 45 years, we have been committed to building dynamic community partnerships to support our public schools. Being a vital part of our community enables us to provide essential resources and enrichment opportunities to every public school student in Altadena, Pasadena, and Sierra Madre.