Sam Calavitta’s “Cal Method” Makes Math Come Alive

Laughter and fun echoed inside "Mr. Cal's" classroom, the exuberant atmosphere contrasting with the expected seriousness of a high school class in advanced calculus.

To those who know Sam Calavitta '98 (M.A. mathematics), this playfulness is true to form as a self-proclaimed unconventional teacher who uses his own "Cal Method" to get students energized about learning math.

During the 8 o'clock class at Fairmont Preparatory Academy in Anaheim, "Mr. Cal," as his students call him, paces in front of the class, calling out calculus problems like a game show host. He leaps on top of a desk, challenging his students to answer the advanced problems he scribbles on the whiteboard. His students, whooping and hollering, rattle off the correct answers.

Then the bell rings, the room quiets, and Mr. Cal sends his students out: "Have a wonderful day!" The kids respond in unison, "Have a wonderful day, Mr. Cal!" And, exit Room 6. The CSUF alumnus goes to extraordinary measures to make sure his students not only "get the math," but also feel a sense of accomplishment and self-worth.

"Contrary to popular belief, brilliance is not a prerequisite for learning math. Rather, perseverance and diligence over time can certainly equalize, and even surpass, innate ability," said Calavitta, who has taught everything from remedial math to advanced calculus. "I teach my students to never, never, never give up! My job is to be the inspirer, to nurture students to master math, and to manufacture success that will transform students' lives."

Calavitta, a teacher in public and private schools for more than two decades and now a master teacher at Fairmont, has captured his classroom experiences and his "Cal Method" of teaching in a recently published book, "Making a Difference: Award-Winning Math Teacher Changes the World One Student at a Time" (2010 Shumway Publishing Co.). He co-wrote the book with his wife Monica Vaughan Calavitta. A screenplay based on the book is now in the works.

His latest book, "35 Weeks to Calculus Mastery," is not just for math teachers, but for high school and college students as well. Calavitta co-wrote the self-published book with former student Carolyn Shen.

Calavitta landed his first full-time teaching job in 1989 at a high school in Victorville, where he grew up. It was a challenging time, but eventually he earned the respect of his disengaged students. In the end, they became his first successes.

It was during that time he honed his teaching approach to ensure all his students realize their potential. Calavitta first makes them feel important, then engages them in academics through games, drills, activities and quizzes that reinforce the math concepts.

An Ironman triathlete who today competes with two of his older children, Calavitta first came to Cal State Fullerton in 1985 to join the wrestling team. But he completed his undergraduate degree in mathematics and physical science at Cal State San Bernardino.

After several years of teaching, he returned to Cal State Fullerton in 1997 to earn a master's degree in mathematics. Calavitta attended evening classes, worked three jobs, including his teaching post, and had four young children. His wife was expecting their fifth child. Today, the couple has nine children, ages 3 to 21. The eldest, Ciena, is a Cal State Fullerton kinesiology major.

The alumnus recalled how his professors, including Stephen W. Goode, chair and professor of mathematics, helped him to be successful in graduate school. "Dr. Goode totally inspired me," Calavitta said. "The impact he had on me was great. His standard for excellence never wavered. He challenged me to become the best I could be — and he inspired all of his students to always give their best, which is what I do with my students here." end of story