Front Range

It All Adds Up

Denver grade schoolers’ math scores get a boost with Pi Q Math.

October 2013

Pop quiz: What’s 28 percent of 64,444? The number of Colorado third graders (18,044, to be exact) who probably couldn’t tell you the answer to that question—or something even simpler, like four times five. In 2013, only 72 percent of Colorado third-graders performed proficiently or better on state standardized tests. But that figure may soon be on the rise if Pi Q Math, a play-based approach to building math literacy, has anything to say about it.

What started in 2009 as a handful of short summer camps for fewer than 10 kids has exploded into a full slate of summertime and before- and after-school programs—almost all of which have waiting lists—serving hundreds of children at close to a dozen DPS institutions. The program has become so popular that founder Anjalika Agarwala recently expanded the camps to 30-plus students per class instead of five to 10 and is even considering getting her own dedicated space.

Agarwala developed the one-of-a-kind Pi Q model four years ago, after moving to Colorado. She was appalled by the state’s poor math scores and disappointed in the monotony she saw in her then-first-grade daughter’s math classes. So the MIT-educated electrical engineer set about fixing the statistics.
There’s no room in Pi Q for tedious textbooks or finger counting. Instead, it’s nonstop action as elementary students learn to solve complex word problems, program robots, and match wits over board games like Pente and chess—all without an inkling that they’re doing math. “She’s instilling fluency, speed, and the motivation to do math, and that’s very powerful,” observes Sara Singh, a third-grade teacher at Denver’s Teller Elementary who’s seen marked improvement in her students’ math aptitudes after working with Agarwala.

For her part, Agarwala sees the program as helping students with more than just their long division. “Math builds critical thinking to use in things like writing, art, and music,” Agarwala says. “I want to challenge children because I believe they will rise to the occasion. They discover they can solve a problem, and as their confidence grows, they’ll want more.” Which might just explain why the crowds at Pi Q programs are multiplying so quickly. piqmath.com