Cori Davis, 10, a fifth-grader at Park Elementary School, discovered she could connect a bunch of squares to make a wheel “that really spins.”
Her partner, Canyon Tucker, 10, a fellow fifth-grader at Park, observed “it’s like a hamster thing.”
Cori and Canyon were among 200 students from Durango, Cortez and Ignacio who attended the Julia Robinson Mathematics Festival on Thursday in the Ballroom of the Student Union at Fort Lewis College.
Anne McCarthy, associate vice president for academic affairs at FLC, said projects set up at about 20 tables in the ballroom were designed as “low-floor, high-ceiling games – anyone can walk by and have fun, but to really understand what’s going on, it really takes some high level stuff.”
Often, math is viewed as a lot of work with pencil and paper to find solutions, a number crunch.
McCarthy said, “Our larger goal is to redefine what math looks like.”
Looking over the ballroom with kids playing games requiring math reasoning, McCarthy added, “What you see here is not what you typically see in math education.”
But the trend to provide students with more practical and playful applications to discover math is growing, she said.
“We’re looking to make math a more creative process and less algorithmic,” she said.
This is the third year the FLC Math Department has sponsored the Julia Robinson Mathematics Festival, a national event that provides logistical and organizational help to put on the festivals and other after-school math events.
The FLC Math Department also puts on workshops to help teachers improve their practice through its Southwest Colorado Math Teachers’ Circle, which next meets Nov. 14 at FLC. For more information, email McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“What we’re trying to do is to encourage productive struggle,” she said.
All the games, which required some deeper level of mathematical understanding to play well, are aimed at building perseverance, critical thinking, problem solving and out-of-the-box reasoning.
Everyone who knows a child who has struggled with fractions, McCarthy said, would appreciate the spirit of the games.
“A lot of times we get bogged down by numbers, but if you’re drawing lines and looking at proportions, you see: ‘Hey, fractions can be useful.’ They can be fun if applied in a more useful setting,” McCarthy said.
Adilynn Martinez, 12, a sixth-grader at Cortez Middle School, whose parents are Ben and Barbara Martinez, said “it gets trickier the further you go,” as she tried to solve the puzzle presented to her by the Chocolate Fix, which required students to use logic and reasoning to build geometric and color-coordinated patterns.
“It helps build their skills of deduction and inference,” said James Gonzales, an elementary education major at FLC who was helping students.