Festival ignites excitement, interest in math
FRANKTOWN – Douglas County School District teachers may have found the solution to an extremely challenging math problem. When you add word problems, games and students it equals engaged and excited elementary school mathematicians.
Last Saturday, Franktown Elementary was bustling with activity as students from across Parker gathered to try out a number of math activities during the school’s first-ever Julia Robinson Math Festival.
“We wanted to spend a day being problem solvers, explained Franktown Elementary Principal Mark Harrell. “Our goal was to get kids past being calculators to instead being mathematicians, thinkers and problem solvers.”
The idea was suggested by students who had the opportunity to participate in the Julia Robinson Math Festival held at the University of Colorado Denver last year, during a field trip.
Harrell says that even students who weren’t all that interested in math came back excited about the subject and couldn’t wait to share it with other students.
“I told teachers, if you want to do it – let’s find a way to make a way to happen,” Harrell recalled.
Susan Meyer, Franktown Elementary School’s administrative intern, immediately went to work, collaborating with Diana White, a mathematician from the CU Denver to bring festival to Franktown this year, inviting teachers and students from the Parker-area to join in.
Walking around the school on Saturday, March 11, it was immediately obvious why they would want to bring the event to Douglas County. Students were huddled up with peers, parents or teachers, working to solve a variety of complex mathematical problems.
While some might expect grimaces, kids were instead genuinely excited, and engaged as they worked through the difficult concepts.
“I wish they did this every single weekend,” said Ally Hughes, a fourth-grader from Pine Lane Elementary.
“I thought it was fun,” Elias Wince added. “There were a lot of interesting things to do and you don’t even know that you’re doing math.”
Meyer says that is the key.
“If we can present math through puzzles and problem-solving in a non-threatening, fun environment -- we can host it for kids – that is what it is all about. That is where learning occurs,” Meyer said.
One of the most popular tasks was a word problem, in which teams had to figure out the fastest way to get a group of kids across a bridge, taking into consideration the different attributes of each child, including their speed and the fact they could not have more than two individuals on the bridge at the same time.
“It was pretty fun, because you have to figure out a shorter time. It was so hard. We kept getting 69 every time,” said DJ Wince, a fourth-grader with Northeast Elementary.
“This is actually really hard. It makes no sense, but it is really fun,” Samantha Smith, a fourth-grader from Legacy Point Elementary added with a laugh. “The record is 69 and no one can get past it. I just can’t figure it out.”
The goal of the festival was to expose not only students, but also educators to different ways of doing math.
“Math doesn’t necessarily have to look the way it does traditionally during the school week,” Harrell said. “My hope is that more teachers will buy into adding more gamification in their classes and instruction.”
In addition to the festival, Franktown has started two math circles to give students regular opportunities to engage in these types of activities.
White believes that this will naturally help more students navigate their way to STEM-related studies and careers.
“We know that kids start to lose interest in STEM careers or math by the time they reach middle school,” White said. “This is a great way to keep them engaged, keeping those future career pathways open to them longer than if they start to shut down and lose interest in math.”
Learn more about the Julia Robinson Math Festival at jrmf.org