Lamplighter is the first school in Texas, and the only elementary school in North America, to experience a 'Math Walk' with Glen Whitney and Cindy Lawrence of New York City's National Museum of Mathematics (MoMath). Last month, the two spent the day with third and fourth graders, in an effort to “share the love of mathematics with the enthusiastic students of Lamplighter," according to Whitney. The only math museum in North America, MoMath strives to enhance public understanding and perception of mathematics in daily life and is committed to improving and advancing math education.
Lawrence, the Executive Director of the organization explained that she and Whitney “were delighted” to bring the Museum’s “unique brand of engaging math exploration” to the students and teachers of The Lamplighter School. She said the Dallas community “was instrumental” in getting the nation's only museum of math off the ground back in 2009, “so it was a special treat to return to once again to share the wonder and beauty of mathematics with the people of Dallas." She noted that their original programs traveled for five years, and Dallas was a big help in launching the New York-based museum.
Lamplighter Head of School Dr. Joan Hill said the School “was eager” to welcome Whitney and Lawrence and to take advantage of the opportunity for the pair to conduct “a rich and varied program” normally designed for older students, primarily those in high school. Dr. Hill said MoMath “more than met the goal” in providing the students with a math experience that the organization calls “unique, surprising, and fun.”
To prepare for the event, Whitney and Lawrence spent a few days at the School to explore the campus, make a plan, then customize the activity for Lamplighter including exercises at both the outdoor chess board and in the middle of the playground, to create their math problems. Throughout the day, Whitney and Lawrence led four “interactive math experience” tours with the students. Announcing “We’re going to see where we can find math,” Whitney told the children, grinning, “We’re going to go around outside, and maybe some math will happen along the way!” Continuing, Whitney defined math as having questions and figuring out the easiest way to solve them. “It’s really great to have lots of ways to solve problems,” he nodded, then declared before commencing the tour, “Sometimes mathematics can tell you what’s possible, and sometimes it tells you what’s impossible!”
As Whitney led the math walk, students were quick to participate, answering questions and suggesting various ideas. During the event, they were able to break down multiplication tasks into relatable and concrete problems by counting, using visual representations, and estimating. Whitney encouraged the children to share their ideas for problem solving, demonstrating to them that there is “more than one way to solve a problem.”
Starting at the School’s well-known “life-sized” chess board, students were challenged by Whitney to guess the number of squares on the board, only to learn about the thousands of ‘mini squares’ within a square. Instead of just the “more obvious” 64 black and white squares (for chess game-play), the children learned there are actually 43,246 total squares! Smiling, third grader Greta Solomon said she thought “it was really cool that he thought to see how many little squares” were on the chessboard.
The next exercise revolved around the “circular” area in the middle of the playground, under the big tree. Or is it circular? Noting that the playground circle was “not exact” due to the barriers and “multiple sides,” Whitney directed the students to use their bodies to measure and estimate the dimensions of the “circle” area of the playground. They determined that it had 54 sides and was actually a pentacontakaipentagon. So, Whitney announced to the delight - albeit puzzlement - of the students, “Guess what, you guys have a pentacontakaipentagon playground!”
“I always thought it was a circle, but it was actually a pentacontakaipentagon!" described third grader Enzo Henry, obviously enjoying the newly introduced math term. He remarked how he “really liked how we counted all the sides on the playground.”
Explaining that there were multiple ways to manipulate and solve problems, including the activities he conducted for Lamplighter at the chess board and in the playground, Whitney emphasized the “benefit of approximation,” along with the ability to use sight to approximate.
Fourth grade math teacher Kathey Beddow said the children “had a wonderful time” participating in the math walk “and loved being able to apply their understanding of the various math concepts and skills in their Lamplighter world around them.” She described them as “amazed” that the middle playground was “a 55-sided pentacontakaipentagon!” and that they could measure the Ring Road by just knowing the length of 1/20 of the motorway. “We will have lots of continued fun exploring the playground and the new buildings to find all kinds of math,” she added.
After the tour, Lawrence revealed that the Lamplighter third and fourth graders were the youngest group MoMath had ever worked with. “We have done programs like this all over the country, but this is the only school so far in Texas,” she noted.
Later, Assistant Head for Academics Vicki Raney described the event as “inspiring to students and teachers alike, and loads of fun!” She said Whitney “asked challenging questions” of students, “and I'm pleased to tell you how well they replied!” Raney added that she “looks forward” to more information, training, and connections with MoMath. Teacher Debbie Cox agreed and said that it was not just the students who were engaged during the experience, but that she and fellow teachers also “learned a lot.”
Teacher Lauren Hardage agreed, describing the math walk as “spectacular.” She said the students seemed to enjoy “the implications of it…there is so much math around them all the time!” She added that it prompted her and another teacher, Leslie Bledsoe, “to look around for other ‘Math Walk’ type experiences that we can introduce to the children.” Bledsoe said she enjoyed the math walk because “It sparked my creativity to see if I will be able to come up with ideas for integrating math into the great outdoors part of our campus.” She continued, “I loved the way they integrated math so easily into relatable aspects of the children's world here at Lamplighter.”
Jo Nelson, another faculty member who participated, concurred and described the Math Walk as a “creative and interesting way of introducing the students to the importance and use of math in everyday life.” She said it was “a delight” to see the students “intrigued and engaged in the abstract concepts.”
One such student, third grader Aadhya Yanamadala, remarked, “In my opinion, MoMath helps you see math in different ways.” At first, Yanamadala said she never thought anyone could ride a bicycle with square wheels, an example Whitney had discussed, “but now I know that riding bikes can be math too!” Fellow student Solomon said she thought it was “very weird!” that Whitney said the red “sliced pizza” model he used to illustrate another lesson, was five feet in circumference “because my brother is 5' 3" and I don't think I would be able to fit him in that circle,” she chuckled.
Before leaving, in a show of their appreciation, a few student representatives presented ‘thank you’ cards to Whitney and Lawrence, appropriately designed from ‘patterns in nature’ in Fibonacci sequence. According to math teacher Beddow, the Fibonacci numbers are, perhaps appropriately, “Nature's numbering system. They appear everywhere in Nature, from the leaf arrangement in plants to the pattern of the florets of a flower.”
After the MoMath experts departed, Dr. Hill described the experience that the students received as “the best example of innovative problem-solving for the youngest learners.” She explained that Lamplighter strives to make sure that students develop a strong foundation in problem-solving and critical thinking. The School’s math program balances "how-to" skills with concepts children need to understand. Dr. Hill believes having programs such as MoMath’s Math Walk at Lamplighter “helps to ensure that our children experience unique and interesting ways to think about math problems, in order to determine the best answers.” Describing Whitney’s presentation style as “thoughtful,” Dr. Hill smiled and asked, “Now wasn’t that fun?!”
Since it opened in December 2012, more than 1 million people of all ages in New York, across the United States, and in Singapore, Brazil, Germany, Russia, Spain, the UK, and Sweden have experienced the fun, beauty and intellectual excitement of MoMath. The only math museum in North America, MoMath fulfills an incredible demand for hands-on math programming, creating a space where those who are math-challenged – as well as math enthusiasts of all backgrounds and levels of understanding – can revel in their own personal realm of the infinite world of mathematics through more than 37 unique state-of-the-art interactive exhibits.
MoMath Mission: Mathematics illuminates the patterns that abound in our world. The National Museum of Mathematics strives to enhance public understanding and perception of mathematics. Its dynamic exhibits and programs stimulate inquiry, spark curiosity, and reveal the wonders of mathematics. The Museum’s activities lead a broad and diverse audience to understand the evolving, creative, human, and aesthetic nature of mathematics.
Glen Whitney Bio: Glen Whitney received an undergraduate math degree from Harvard University and a Ph.D. in mathematical logic from UCLA. He began his career on the academic, theoretical side, teaching at the University of Michigan, then added the applied point of view as a hedge fund quantitative analyst with Renaissance Technologies. Whitney discovered the spirit of hands-on exploration as an elementary-school math club coach, and he's seen the value of math as a tool to give back to society, helping to design the data collection systems used by the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative. Whitney is President and Founder of the National Museum of Mathematics, which tries to change public perceptions of mathematics, and attempts to improve the way youth are educated in this country. Whitney presents interactive math talks all over the country, and he’s the creator of a number of unique math tours designed to demonstrate how the world can be viewed through a mathematical lens. Whitney is also the editor of the weekly puzzle column Varsity Math in The Wall Street Journal, and the author of Math Mondays, a weekly column appearing in Make Magazine online.
Cindy Lawrence Bio: Cindy Lawrence began her professional career as a CPA with Price Waterhouse, where she worked in a wide variety of industries and companies. She followed that with a stint at her local newspaper (Newsday), where she served as Senior Accountant in the budgeting and financial planning group. Her logistics and management skills were then honed when she spent the next sixteen years balancing the needs of three active children with a part-time job as the national editor for a professional CPA review course. As a lead national instructor, Lawrence taught classes, wrote curriculum, edited content, and addressed questions from students and instructors worldwide. Lawrence is also a lifelong math enthusiast who created and directs an extracurricular mathematics program for gifted middle school and high school students, run through a joint venture with Brookhaven National Laboratory.
In 2008, Lawrence began volunteering with a group that was determined to open America’s only museum of mathematics. She quickly became an active contributor to the project and eventually left her part-time position to serve as the fledgling museum’s Chief of Operations. After moving through the positions of Associate Director and Co-Executive Director, in January 2015 Lawrence was named Executive Director and CEO of the National Museum of Mathematics (MoMath). In her role with the Museum, Lawrence works to change public perceptions of mathematics and to improve the way American youth are educated in mathematics. Her role focuses on outreach and fundraising, and includes creation of the Math Midway, a carnival-themed traveling exhibition designed to demonstrate that math can be interactive, exciting, and fun; Math Encounters, a presentation series that communicates the richness of mathematics to the general public; the MoMath Masters, a lighthearted math tournament for adults; and Family Fridays, a program that brings parents and children together to celebrate the beauty of mathematics.
View this story covered by Preston Hollow Advocate.