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Junior Undiscovered Math Prodigies

"I used to really hate math,” beams grade five student Alice Le Bihan.  “And now it just makes me really happy to find math on the board in the morning.”  Alice is just one of dozens of kids whose perspective on math – and the world – has changed, thanks to the “Junior Undiscovered Math Prodigies” program and Vancouver Foundation.
The philosophy behind JUMP is that inside every student there is an undiscovered prodigy.  Founding Director John Mighton says he created JUMP because he struggled with math himself when he was younger.  In fact, he says he was actually a bit afraid of it.  He only got the confidence to do math when he was much older, and he did not want children to feel the way he did.

Today, Mighton not only holds a PhD in graph theory, but he’s also an adjunct professor of mathematics at the University of Toronto, a fellow of the Fields Institute for Mathematical Research, and an award-winning playwright.

Early in his career, Mighton began to tutor children, and he soon came to realize that there was an enormous amount of untapped potential inside of them.

“We don’t tend to use math to capture that potential,” Mighton explains.  “People think math is the hardest subject, but I think it’s the easiest subject when kids get the proper support.”

The JUMP program begins with confidence-building exercises that have demonstrably changed children’s perceptions of themselves and their abilities.

“In my experience,” Mighton explains, “Children want two things in order to be happy at school:  to exercise their minds and to show off.  Mathematics may well be the subject where children can most easily satisfy both of these desires.”

JUMP is based on the idea that “guided discovery” is a more effective way of learning, and teachers are largely responsible for its success.  Teachers must pay attention to the psychology of the classroom to make sure that everyone is included, involved and participating, and supported with responsive instruction, praise, and encouragement.  Children who don’t believe they can succeed never will.

Parents are delighted at the spark they see in their children since JUMP has been introduced into their school.  One mother enthuses, “It’s definitely become a big part of our lives in that it’s something he does every day.  There’s a commitment factor, and that’s a good thing.”

Teachers also recognize the shift in students’ attitudes when JUMP is implemented into the classroom.  Maureen McRae, the JUMP coordinator at Alice’s school, describes what she’s seen.  “JUMP is fantastic for kids because it builds confidence.  That really helps them – especially those in the lower half of the class.  They develop a sense of commitment to the learning process.”

With students confident and committed, teachers are then able to cover more of their curriculum and can narrow or even close the wide gap of student performances that exists in most classrooms, creating a better learning environment for all.

Vancouver Foundation has supported JUMP from its inception into British Columbia with initial start-up grants totalling $25,000.  A further $45,000 has been recently given to further its expansion throughout the province.  Mighton is grateful for the funding from Vancouver Foundation.  He explains, “They’ve helped support the training that we’ve provided out here [in British Columbia] and the communications and building the whole organization.  It’s been fantastic, the support they’ve given us.”

(Originally aired: 2007)

(Story written: 2008)

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