Each day, dozens of students at Jefferson Elementary in Richland, Wash., skip recess to play Shut the Box and Math Fact Bingo. These are just two of the games that PTA board member Barbara Chen crafted for her novel curriculum initiative, Math Masters, which she’s counting on to boost student achievement at the low-income school.

“I started Math Masters as a way of making the mastery of math facts fun for all the kids,” she explains. As program facilitator, Chen leads about 50 volunteers (including teachers) who help run the games. She also coordinates written math tests for students, tracks their progress on a “wall of fame,” and arranges student awards for assemblies.

Chen previously served two terms as PTA treasurer; she piloted Math Masters at Jefferson in spring 2009. Since then, students can’t seem to get enough game time.

The mom of 4th grader Sebastian, Chen has a background in economics and fine arts; her creative flair is evident in the Math Mosaics game: Students work on laminated grids with squares that contain math problems. When the color-coded answer tiles are placed correctly on the grid, a picture mosaic appears. “It’s relaxing, and they don’t realize how many times they have run math facts through their heads while doing these,” Chen says. “They are so focused on solving the mosaic that it feels more like coloring than math facts to them.”

The program has created multiple volunteer opportunities at school, too. “Parents have been able to help make new games by cutting foam tiles, sticking stickers on games, making custom game cards, and other odd tasks,” she says.

Although the program is too young to have a documented track record, it has already been getting rave reviews. “Teachers have told us we have helped take the drudgery out of improving math fact skills, and that they see improvement in their students that regularly attend Math Masters,” Chen says. She is currently writing a manual for future chairpeople of the program and says she hopes to implement it districtwide, too.