Mark Day School
39 Trellis Drive
San Rafael, CA 94903


Our math curriculum for kindergarten through 5th grade is based on the Bridges in Mathematics program, a flexible and comprehensive set of materials and activities. Students in the Lower School develop strong number sense, learning to look for different possibilities for solutions, as well as the application of math in the world.

The 6th grade year introduces exciting new math concepts and processes, reinforcing skills learned in 4th and 5th grade. The goal is to prepare the students to start algebra in 7th grade, so they will become familiar with the concept of variables and solving and graphing for variables. Keeping pace with the developmental stage of these young adults, the curriculum pays special attention to the practical application of math, with units that dovetail with media literacy lessons on the credit industry and how data is routinely manipulated with graphs and charts.

All upper division students complete a comprehensive study of Algebra 1 over a two-year period, enriched with projects and applications of learning, and are well-prepared for high school mathematics. Students participate in either Algebra 1 or enriched Algebra 1, and the two courses cover the same content and develop the same broad skills for mathematical thinking. The enriched course provides a deeper level of challenge and a more open-ended context for the application of some skills. The two classes also join together for some projects during the year. Student placement aims to ensure that the math learning experience in 7th and 8th grades does the best job possible of advancing that student through Algebra 1, which is the foundation for high level mathematics and engineering. High school placements are strong from both courses. 

A wide range of projects in the upper division program reinforce learning, such as having students create fractal-based art pieces (like the von Koch snowflake) through applying concepts associated with sequences and series, design and produce probability-based games, and produce math movies to explain and apply concepts of parabolic motion or the quadratic formula. Further, students engage with and experience many real-world applications of the mathematical and analytic concepts they explore in class. Students have even visited a professional car racing company to learn about the mathematics behind optimizing race car performance, and annually visit the renowned local firm of Fair Isaac (creators of the FICO score) to learn about predictive modeling and data analysis in the financial services industry.

Finally, all students who enjoy math are encouraged to participate on our competitive problem-sovling athletes team, for which there are no tryouts.

Featured Project: Students + Screens

As one of the four cross-disciplinary literacies at Mark Day School, Media and Information Literacy is an integrated part of the curriculum across all grades and units. This year, Upper Division students took a step back and analyzed their own media usage as part of a long-term math project guided by Math Teachers Beth Bonzell and Norm Lyons.

Critical to mathematics, academic learning, and other creative endeavors, data analysis and analytic thinking were the driving forces behind the creation of this project. “We also really wanted students to design much of this project on their own, with minimal guidance from their teachers,” says Mr. Lyons. “We wanted to give our students as much leeway as possible to control the project development and execution process, make mistakes along the way, and continually reevalute their thinking.”

After researching the issue of young people’s screen time usage behavior and watching the documentary Screenagers, students addressed the project’s driving question: What kind of effect does the amount of screen time usage have on individuals, peers, and adolescents, in general? In order to answer this question, the students needed data. Seventh and 8th graders, respectively, created a master database and devised a plan to collect the data necessary to populate that database. They identified different variables they wanted to test such as gender, the type of electronic screens students use and how they are being used, and the content they access. Because 8th graders had to complete the project within one year, they decided to capture data solely from their own classmates, whereas 7th graders planned to collect data from grades two through seven, and will analyze that data during the 2017-2018 school year.

Once 8th graders collected their data, they then divvied up their questions for analysis and finally, presented their findings to peers and teachers. They made connections across various screen usage behaviors, including tying demographic categories to certain types of screen usage. Among their conclusions, students discovered that most 8th graders use their devices well into the late evening and that most respondents use social media between one and three hours per day. Additionally, the vast majority of female students prefer texting over calling, while the majority of male students prefer calling over texting.

“Many students realized that how they worded their survey questions, for example, affected the data they received,” Ms. Bonzell explains, which was one of the objectives of the project. “They reflected on how they could have improved those survey questions to make the subsequent data analysis easier and more accurate.” In the future, Ms. Bonzell and Mr. Lyons would like to have students plan a school-wide campaign to bring awareness about their findings; for example, they could institute a “no screens day” for all grades. For now, 7th graders are excited to analyze their cross-grade data next year.

Featured Project: 7th Grade Marble Run

During a unit on slope and graphing lines, 7th graders are instructed to build a functional marble run. They are given a set of materials such as peg boards, masking tape, and white ramps and must follow a set of mathematical requirements. They may also use additional materials to make their marble runs more creative and complex. Students work together to design and test their marble runs. When the project is complete, students write a reflection paper about the process of creation and collaboration as well as the math involved.

Students will independently use their learning to:

  • Apply creative mathematical problem solving in both theoretical and real world contexts.
  • Identify and seek opportunities to use mathematics, including in connection with other disciplines.
  • Persevere in solving novel problems by employing a variety of mathematical tools and strategies.
  • Communicate and critique mathematical thinking and reasoning in a variety of forms.
  • Collect and analyze data and develop and apply mathematical models to make decisions, draw conclusions, and solve problems.