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Canadian Oil Sands Math Minds

Calgary Public Library, AB
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Innovation Summary

Canadian Oil Sands Math Minds is a free weekly tutoring program designed to provide elementary students in grades in 1-6 with specialized math help. Using JUMP Math materials as well as math games and puzzles trained volunteers provide a supportive environment to meet the learning needs of the participants.

Innovation Leader: Bernie Dowhan, Program Coordinator, Canadian Oil Sands Math Minds, berniedowhan@calgarypubliclibrary.com

Problem Statement

Libraries have an acknowledged strength in providing reading support, but have not done as much with other literacies, including math literacy. Building on a need for math support identified by another successful CPL program, Homework Help, Math Minds is designed to provide assistance with math and numeracy at the elementary school age level. Canadian Oil Sands had identified the societal need for strong math literacy as an area in which to invest and created a bold vision to establish Calgary as a Centre of Excellence in math education. Through Math Minds, the Calgary Public Library participates in a unique consortia partnership with the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Education, Calgary Catholic School District, Boys & Girls Club of Calgary, and JUMP Math to help Calgary elementary school children in kindergarten to grade six to improve math skills and confidence. In pursuing this opportunity, Calgary Public Library is building on its traditional strength of supporting print literacy and demonstrating to the community that Libraries can work in other literacies, including math literacy, as well.


The need was identified: CPL has offered a program, Homework Help for some time, but attendance was flagging. Students most often requested help with math homework. Support was established: Canadian Oil Sands funded a dedicated Library Math Minds Program Coordinator to administer the program, train volunteer tutors, develop and implement evaluation, and participate in cross organization knowledge sharing with other consortia partners. Internal capacity was limited: The investment offered by Canadian Oil Sands Limited was substantial, but CPL had limited resources to devote to the project. The program design would have to be scalable and would draw on volunteers to lead so that staff resources could be managed. Program design needed to achieve multiple goals: • help students in grades K – 6 work on building math skills utilizing JUMP math resources already held in our collections • encourage students to see math as fun by devoting time in each program to math puzzles and games • expand CPL’s volunteer base by creating a program that is volunteer led • add a print literacy component by having a math based story read at each program • have evaluation built in to provide a feedback loop to the Sponsor


Full registration was immediately achieved in the initial programs offered in January 2013. Demand has been overwhelming with a significant waiting list per program. Registration, initially limited to 15, was expanded to 20 to respond to demand. To further alleviate demand, a week long summer program at eight CPL branches is being implemented. This will also address the summer slide in math skills which decline more than any other academic skill, according to researchers from Duke University. To ensure that a measureable level of success is occurring, students have their math skills assessed at the beginning and end of the program using JUMP Math resources. Students, tutors and parents complete a post evaluation of the program and an attitudinal assessment of the students is completed at the beginning and at the end to measure the program’s success in improving students’ feelings about math. One anecdote that illustrates the success of the program: “Idabell is in grade one and is enrolled in Math Minds. She never attended Kindergarten. In the program’s first week she circled random objects in her workbook and on her assessment sheet. She had only basic number sense (barely count to 10). After four weeks and with some extra tutor attention, she is reading instructions, asking for help, and has caught up to her group. Her number sense has improved (recognizing numbers over 20) and her focus is tremendous. Her mother credits the library programs and is very pleased with the increased confidence and focus of her child.”