Armando M. Martinez-CruzCaption: Professor Armando M. Martinez-Cruz helps build excitement for math in classrooms — from Orange County elementary and high schools to Cal State Fullerton. Photo: Karen Tapia Download

Making Mathematics Fun

Professor Reads to Second-graders, Delivers Math Lesson

With a metal ant in one hand and a big ant–shaped piñata that he made himself sitting nearby, Armando M. Martinez-Cruz proceeded to read "One Hundred Hungry Ants," an illustrated children's book, to a second-grade class at Laguna Road Elementary School in Fullerton Wednesday.

“One hundred ants were singing and marching in a row,” the Cal State Fullerton mathematics professor read in a lively tone. “ ‘Stop,’ said the littlest ant. We're moving way too slow... with two lines of 50, we’d get there soon, I know.’ ”

Two lines of 50, Martinez-Cruz told the second-graders, “is 50 plus 50.”

Or, “50 times 2,” said an excited pupil.

Yes, now on to four lines of 25, five lines of 20 and 10 lines of 10, Martinez-Cruz instructed, and the children gleefully wrote down the equations: “25 times 4,” “20 times 5,” and “10 times 10.”

“This is fun,” said Luke.

“I like math,” said a classmate.

Nurturing excitement about math was the goal, Martinez-Cruz said, especially in the United States, which ranks 24th of 29 countries for math literacy among 15 year-olds.

Martinez-Cruz, who serves as coordinator of the master's program in teaching in CSUF's Department of Mathematics, said he is passionate about math education and preparing students for success.

He has worked on several grant-funded projects, dealing with the mathematics education of students, parents and teachers at all levels — elementary school through graduate school.

He helped create curriculum for a special math program at a school in a low-income neighborhood of Fullerton and involved 60 Cal State Fullerton students, who want to become teachers.

From 2003 to 2008, Martinez-Cruz participated in a multi-million-dollar National Science Foundation grant awarded to one of his fellow CSUF math professors, David L. Pagni. As part of that grant, Martinez-Cruz presented motivational classroom strategies to entice students to learn mathematics.

While his lessons reach students of all ages, he also volunteers to teach parents so they can help their children with math concepts. And, since his projects touch areas where many parents speak no English, he instructs them in Spanish.

In addition, Martinez-Cruz makes numerous presentations at national conferences as an invited speaker. Among his topics are: “how to combine history, technology and geometry” and “how to encourage Latino students to pursue a higher education by excelling in mathematics.”

“Dr. Martinez-Cruz is an amazing mathematics educator, role model and colleague,” said Martin V. Bonsangue, Martinez-Cruz’s mentor and CSUF's 2010-11 Outstanding Professor. “He is equally at home working with a class of second-graders as a class of graduate students, and is loved and appreciated by both! He has had a real impact on the mathematics education community through his writing and speaking, and is known both nationally and internationally. It is a privilege for me to know Dr. Martinez-Cruz as both colleague and friend.”

Bonsangue even praised Martinez-Cruz during his Outstanding Professor Lecture on March 12.

He said Martinez-Cruz helps stir up excitement about math, which Bonsangue said should be approached with as much zeal and creativity as teaching language arts and other fun subjects.

Math lessons can be devised from children's picture books, giant ant piñatas with six legs and two antennae and stuffed animals, Martinez-Cruz proves.

“When I was invited to read today, I did some research because I wanted to use some props,” he told his second-grade audience. “I read a book on how to make an ant piñata. Reading is very important. You learn so much. For example, did you know an ant has six legs? That's how you know it's an insect, not a spider.”

Besides leaving the kids with lessons to remember, Martinez-Cruz also passed out Cal State Fullerton pencils and highlighters, courtesy of CSUF's Math Department, College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and Student Affairs.

“The mementos reiterate the idea of going to college,” he said, adding that his message encompasses the importance of learning and earning college degrees.

And, Martinez-Cruz said, “math is so important because it opens doors to opportunities.”

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