By Jennifer Barreto, AmeriCorps VISTA and Molly Timmins, AmeriCorps VISTA Leader
If you’ve ever wondered what would happen if you combined the resources of community partnerships with captivating math activities, you would have found your answer at Sweeney Elementary on May 3 at Math Power Family Night, an event sponsored by MathAmigos*. A communal celebration of the STEM field was scheduled to kickoff at 5:30 on Thursday evening, however, by 5:15 families from across the city were streaming in, buzzing with curiosity and anticipation for the night to come. MathAmigos welcomed influential minds from across Santa Fe to share alternative methods to approaching math, using strategic games that simultaneously encourage fun and the use of math outside of the classroom.
Throughout the event, students and families were enthralled with various opportunities to ignite their inner mathematician. Teachers volunteered their time to run math activities for the whole family, instructing games which quickly became crowd favorites, such as Blokus, the Difference Engine, and Swish.
One of the most impressive parts of the night was the level of students’ engagement in leading some of the activities. Ms. Silvana Sanchez, a 6th grade math teacher at El Camino Real Academy, brought 21 of her students to host tables. They taught attendees about rate and velocity using remote control cars, rates and ratio through an activity called Happy Cat Carnival, how to predict the trajectory of an object using a catapult and a protractor, and how to measure the speed of sound using a smart phone and a frequency tube. Ms. Sanchez says she likes to incorporate real world activities into every unit, but without proper resources this can be difficult. In response to this typical barrier, she turned her efforts outward, and has partnered with SFPS volunteer, Rich Strittmatter throughout the school year. He helped bring in activities and other needed materials for illustrating the lessons taught in her class. Rich has been volunteering in SFPS schools for 8 years because he believes he can help math be more engaging by adding a physical element with experiments, plus he says, “it keeps me young.”
Parents involved in Poder Familiar, a project of EarthCare with support from Opportunity Santa Fe, contributed to the event in a major way. Each of the parents created a poster project about how they use math at home with their kids. The hope is that these projects would spark ideas for other parents to incorporate teaching math through the everyday processes of measuring ingredients while cooking, measuring medicine, counting money, looking at coupons and sales in grocery store circulars, and in so many other ways. One such parent, Joseph, worked on his project with his two daughters. He said the girls chose administering medicine as a topic because their dad is an EMT; they must be proud of their dad!
In addition to fun activities, free entertainment and food added fun to the night. The creative energy was coming from all angles, as Sweeney’s 5th grade Choir instructor, Joe Edwards, led his students in a mellow rendition of the song “Satellite” by Gustor. The raffle drawing followed soon afterward, and two lucky students were awarded backpacks fully stocked with school supplies, gift cards to select family restaurants, and a $50 gift card each to Amazon.com.
Amidst the excitement, a calming ambiance fell over the crowd as families settled in with tamales, and a Frito Pie dinner, catered by Sweeney’s cafeteria staff. In addition to the night’s delights, Whoo’s Donuts donated to the event, bestowing a sweet treat to top it all off. Thanks to the MathAmigos committee, Poder Familiar members, and the Sweeney Elementary School staff, Math Power Family Night was a brilliant success, honoring avant-garde ideas, as well as inclusive approaches to math in everyday life.
*MathAmigos is a collaborative working group of Opportunity Santa Fe
“What I saw were people from different communities sharing fun math games and challenging one another. I saw teachers getting together from different schools networking and discussing best practices, I saw shy parents at first- thinking this is just for kids, finally come off the bleachers and let the kids show them how much fun math is, I saw Math Amigos staff beam with pride that it had finally come together and pleased at the success.”
-Theresa Liebert, Principal of Sweeney Elementary School