Growing up in Jamaica, Garfield Jugar was never a “math person.” Actually, he hated math. Tired of his mother always taking his radio away as punishment for his bad math grades, Jugar buckled down and tried to teach himself.
An auditory learner, Jugar would wait for his family to go to sleep late at night and turn off the television. He would then talk through the process to solve the problems. He would talk to the door, the garbage can and other things around the house. Over time, the self-teaching method started to produce results.
While the garbage can never learned to do math, Jugar’s test scores started to improve — first with a 71 on his midterms, then a 92 on his finals in his junior year.
From that point on, math stopped being a problem. Actually, Jugar started to enjoy it. By the time he was ready for college, he decided to major in it. He first earned an associate’s degree in mathematics and then enrolled at FIU to pursue a bachelor’s degree in math education.
Today, the autodidactic student is a Learning Assistant (LA) in FIU’s Mastery Math Lab, a high-tech, high-touch approach to improving student performance through evidence-based teaching techniques including peer mentoring.
The Mastery Math Lab, where students attend weekly tutoring sessions, is designed for students in intermediate and college algebra courses. It is predominantly staffed by Learning Assistants, like Jugar, who are there to help their peers navigate the rigors of math. This approach is an alternative to traditional lecture learning and, for many, makes classwork more relatable.
The LA program at FIU was pioneered in the Department of Physics as a teacher preparation program at a time when enrollment numbers were steadily dropping for physics majors. In recent years, the trend has reversed, thanks in large part to Learning Assistants and other classroom transformations.
Today, the Learning Assistant program is being implemented at a much greater scale. In addition to math and physics, FIU has also deployed LAs in chemistry, earth sciences and biological sciences. FIU currently has the largest Learning Assistant program in the country, with 168 LAs supporting more than 6,200 students in 98 courses.
For Jugar, being an LA has allowed him to teach others, while also providing an opportunity for self-reflection and improvement. With his college graduation on the horizon, the student who once couldn’t pass a math test is now poised to become the teacher.
This post “Peer-mentoring program revolutionizes the classroom” was originally published on FIU News.