“The world is changing. We need to change high school and ... middle school to prepare the students for this new world.” Nahum Correa, left, developer of MetroMatemáticas

A new way to teach math created in Mexico has crossed the border into Santa Cruz County, promising to not only awaken in students an interest in math and science but provide the foundation for developing a high-skilled workforce.

The program, called MetroMatemáticas, was officially launched Wednesday at Rio Rico High School, with a presentation about the method and a tour of the classroom and lab area by community members and state and local officials.

The new system is already in use as part of an afterschool program started in September at Rio Rico and in the Nogales Unified School District. The program will expand to be an elective class next year and officials hope to have it fully integrated into the math curriculum shortly after.

The MetroMatemáticas system uses metrology — the science of weights and measures — and manufacturing tools to teach algebra, geometry and calculus, said its creator, Nahum Correa, who spent years as an engineer at Ford Motor Co. and as an independent consultant before starting to work on his method.

Low test scores, bored students and little interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields motivated him to try and create something new, he said. It became obvious the old ways of teaching math were no longer working.

“The world is changing. We need to change high school and we need to change middle school to prepare the students for this new world,” Correa said.

Unlike the traditional method, MetroMatemáticas engages students directly by bringing math concepts into hands-on reality, said Nagesh Kumar, AP calculus teacher at Rio Rico High School.

“Traditional mathematics is: here’s the radius, here is the height, find the volume of the cylinder,” he said. “With this, it’s: here’s the cylinder. Find the height and find the radius by measuring it, then find the volume.”

Kumar is one of four teachers in the county who went through 120 hours of training for MetroMatemáticas, and is helping to adapt the system to fit state standards, so it can be offered as an accredited class.

The implementation of the new math model is funded by a $1.2 million grant from the Labor Department, said Alfredo Velasquez, Santa Cruz County schools superintendent.

About $300,000 has been invested so far, he said, on equipment, staff and putting the program together. Another $100,000 will be spent on setting up an advanced lab with CNC machining equipment next year.

“In order to promote economic development in Santa Cruz County, we have to have a skilled, trained workforce. We’re hoping this will provide that for us,” Velasquez said.

The growing need for high-skilled workers, both in Southern Arizona and in Sonora, is part of why Tucson-based The Offshore Group got involved in the development of MetroMatemáticas, said Armando Lee Quiroga, general manager for the company’s industrial park operations in Guaymas and Empalme.

In 2009, the company contributed $600,000 to help get the system off the ground in Mexico, he said. There are now five labs in Guaymas and 200 trained teachers, and more than 1,000 students have gone through the program.

While building a high-skilled workforce is a definite benefit, it’s not a primary objective, said Jesus David Bojorquez Ruvalcaba, a math teacher in Sonora. “The goal is not for them to become manufacturing workers, but to become better prepared as people, as students,” he said.

Bojorquez teaches at a middle school in the rural Yaqui community of Pótam, about 120 miles south of Hermosillo. Earlier this year, his students started taking MetroMatemáticas courses every Saturday in Guaymas.

He said he has seen the benefits and that his students, who will soon be learning how to put drones together as part of the program, are motivated to learn.

Kumar, his counterpart at Rio Rico High School, said, “Students here generally want to go into business or law enforcement. Through this program, students should be able to see the value of engineering, and they should be able to see the practicality of math.”

The program’s creator has even loftier goals in mind. “I see MetroMatemáticas as a way to produce human beings with wisdom, human beings that are led by science, by data and by reasoning,” Correa said. “Human beings who can think critically.”

Contact reporter Luis F. Carrasco at lcarrasco@tucson.com or 807-8029.