Partner Highlight: Zeno Math

Memorization, drills, and dread — that’s traditional math education. Zeno Math partners with communities to replace frustration with high-quality, fun, and engaging experiences. Zeno co-designs math education programs with the people that will use them, building relationships with families, kids, and educators that open the door to a lifetime of limitless possibilities. Best Starts supports Zeno through our Innovation Fund.

Turning math learning inside-out

The key to success for Zeno is partnership with families, kids, and communities to create programs, resources, and trainings that work. For example, before they design a new math game, they listen to families talk about how they experienced math when they were younger. What helped them feel good about math? What made them feel bad?

Zeno partnered with El Centro de la Raza to bring math activities to participants of a home-based services program

The Zeno team takes time to understand what’s important to the community.

We take game kits to families and watch how they play. We watch what works and what doesn’t. The artwork for our games used to show people playing together at a table. But when we tested the games, we saw that families were playing on the floor — so we changed the instructions to match.

Juan Manuel Flores Jr., lead for the Zeno With Communities program

Listening to families transforms math problems into math solutions: games that are bigger (easier for small hands), packed with images instead of words, so kids can lead the way.

The relationships Zeno builds with and between educators, parents, and children helps make math a positive part of life wherever kids go. Educators and children learn together using the Zeno program, and children take what they learn back to their parents. There’s no better way than turning kids into teachers to ensure that math skills sink in.

By including the whole community, Zeno helps build a foundation that lasts.

With communities in the lead, kids succeed

Zeno programs are used in locations throughout Washington State, from Tacoma to Everett, from Bremerton and Kingston to Eastern Washington — and the number is growing every day. 

Their success comes from that community focus. They work with museums, with home-based childcare center, and other spaces that may not receive the same support as formal educational settings. They partner with local organizations that already have the trust of families and educators and who, says Juan, “can support the communities in ways we may not recognize are needed.”

A pilot program in Eastern Washington takes this philosophy even further. There, community members partnered with Zeno to create a tailored, five-month program for home-based child care that is designed entirely in Spanish: all training, all materials, all visits, all games.

In a single year, educators say, parents have become more eager to bring their children to the center and have started thinking of the centers as a resource for education. Children, parents, and providers are working together and bringing depth and excitement to the kids’ experience of math.

Thanks to that success, the pilot is now an official program for Zeno Math.

Bringing equity into the equation

Whether it’s a game, a book, or a training program for educators, Zeno starts from the inside. This is critical for communities of color and immigrant communities, where culturally inappropriate materials and teaching strategies can shortchange kids.

In Seattle, Best Starts for Kids is funding work with a new community and new partners to bring high-quality math education to a community of immigrants. There’s very little training for educators available in the community’s language — Oromo — and even fewer materials for kids.

With the community’s guidance, Zeno is developing a full educational package in Oromo, from educator training to games to events. It’s more complex than with more common non-English languages, like Spanish. What Zeno learns from the experience can be groundbreaking for other communities facing similar issues.

“We’re often told that communities of color, immigrant communities, don’t have the ability to learn — don’t want to learn, won’t understand,” says Juan. Listening to educators and community members in Pasco teach and learn from each other as experts reinforced Zeno’s belief in the community’s strength. “When they have the space, the time, and the language, they present with confidence and knowledge.”

“I’m seeing this community thrive and shine.”

-Juan
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Comments (2)

  1. Hello,
    This is Youn Park from K-School, a private school in Des Moines. I have some questions about the “Best Starts for Kids” Program. First, I would like to know if our private school is eligible to have this program. If so, I was wondering how to apply for this Zeno Math program. We want to have the “Best Starts for Kids” Program as an after-school and as a seasonal program for low income students in south king county area. Also, I was wondering if you know what about “Best Starts for Kids” Program is different from other federal support programs.

  2. Hi Youn Park! Best Starts for Kids is a King County initiative so it is a local funding source. Every funding opportunity has different eligibility requirements so you can subscribe to the blog to receive funding opportunity notifications (called RFPs) and see each one! Zeno is one of our partners and an independent organization. They are fantastic and I encourage you to visit their website at https://zenomath.org/programs/ to learn more!

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