At Bauer-Speck Elementary School on Thursday, a half-dozen unsuspecting fifth-graders were led to a classroom where they discovered that Bakersfield math teacher Michael Cushine was preparing to film a segment for the TV show “Do the Math.”
When the cameras rolled, Cushine guided each student through a math problem for separate segments.
“Alex, would you like a hard problem or an easy one?” Cushine said, as one student approached a dry-erase board.
“Easy,” said Alex.
“How are you with fractions, young man?”
At first, Alex suggested he’s pretty good at fractions. A minute later, he expressed doubt.
“You just told me you were good with fractions,” Cushine said. Then he reassures him — “I’ll be right here with you” — just before the cameras begin recording.
“Do the Math” is a live show that airs both on cable and the Internet every Tuesday and Wednesday. The show features segments on math — including “Math in the News” — but mostly it shows students and teachers working out math problems while revealing tips, strategies and shortcuts. Meanwhile, students in grades 4-12 are invited to phone in their own math questions, which are sometimes worked out live on the show.
“We have phone tutors who are all credentialed math teachers that are ready to help the students over the phone,” said Cushine, who has a voice made for radio and a face that resembles a “Deal or No Deal”-era Howie Mandel. “If they’d like, they can say, ‘I’d like to see it done on TV so I can see it being done.’”
While some of the roughly 60 calls per show are answered on air, others are answered off camera. (The show airs from 4-5 p.m.; calls are accepted from 3:30-5:30.)
The show, now in its 12th season, was created by the Kern County Superintendent of Schools Office. Last year, Pat Renshaw, who runs the educational channel for the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education, brought the show to San Luis Obispo County, where it airs locally on Charter cable’s channel 19.
Cushine’s show draws from his years as a radio personality and as a teacher. He now teaches in the Gifted and Talented Education program at Stockdale Elementary School.
On his show, he emphasizes the need for students to figure out problems.
“We try to have them work through it instead of just showing them how to do it,” he said.
Most of the callers, he said, are fifth- through eighth-graders. And there are regulars.
“It’s fun working with the kids and seeing how they approach problems and then guiding them through if they’re not quite sure or if they get stuck at a step,” Cushine said.
While the show airs live, taped segments are also included. And Cushine visits at least a dozen schools a year for taped segments. Thursday, he visited both Bauer-Speck and Flamson Middle School in Paso Robles.
At Bauer-Speck, Cushine showed students how to simplify some problems, like an easy formula — not so easily explained here — for squaring the number 85.
After the final student was filmed, Cushine offered some math encouragement to the group.
“There’s going to be all sorts of math tricks you guys can learn as you get older,” he said.
Bauer-Speck Principal Jami Whedbee said the show will help motivate other students to do math.
“It’s a way for kids to see other kids doing the work, having fun, being successful,” he said.
At Flamson, Cushine helped an eighth-grader figure out how many diagonals are in an octagon by using an equation. Emphasizing analytical approaches to math problems will help students when it comes to standardized testing, Cushine said.
“A lot of it is just mathematical reasoning,” he said.