Math on a Stick is easily one of my favorite things…in the world. That’s not hyperbole. I really love it that much. The 3 days (2 last year, and then this morning) that I’ve volunteered for it have been among my favorite times as a teacher.
It. Is. The. Best.
Here are 3 reasons why:
1 – The activities are SUPER fun.
Patterns, tilings, spiral machine, visiting mathematician, the number game, easter eggs…
2 – The math-as-a-creative-act evangelist in me has a platform and the tools to share my message… and I barely have to do any work at all.
Simply by playing with the materials provided, people start asking mathematical questions. Overheard today:
- How many triangles are there?
- Could you make the same thing on the other side?
- Would this help me learn geometry?
- Is it called a “W” or a “chevron”? Is there a difference? (It was agreed that chevron has to have a consistent color, a W could have any coloring.)
- It has that…what’s the word… symmetry! (This led to a discussion of reflective and then rotational symmetry.)
People show off their creations to their friends, argue over definitions, and start questioning what math really is. It’s fantastic.
3 – Parents get to see their child’s brilliance. And the kids get to see it, too!
Most of my job as a volunteer is to get parents to let their kids play. Parents have this fear that their kid will do something “wrong” or that they’re not playing the right way. My job, most of the time, is to distract the parents long enough for their kids to get their pattern out. The kids, given enough time, will do amazing things. Then when parents get to see what their kid did, on their own, they are impressed and the kids are proud.
I was working at the “Visiting Mathematician” table, and a father came up with two young sons. Marshall Hampton, the mathematician, had people making hexaflexagons. One of the sons took to it easily and the other was having trouble even folding along the printed lines. The father made a polite excuse for his son – meaning well, but sending the message that one of his children was more capable. Of the younger one – he was maybe 4 – the dad said something like, “math just isn’t his thing”. He wasn’t trying to put his son down. He wanted to protect his son. He could see that the boy was struggling. I politely dismissed the comment and assured the father that his son could participate. I started working with the him, and let me tell you… that kid had PERSISTENCE. Yes, I encouraged him, and he did get frustrated at times, but he wanted a flexagon of his own. In fact, once he and I had made one, he insisted on making another. “I want to know how to do it so I can do it.” I taped it up for him, and he undid the tape, explaining that he needed to do it. I LOVE THAT KID. (And shame on me for doing the last step for him.) He made me show him again and again how to flex the thing, and practiced on his own. He was with us for at least 20 minutes and he got it. He was so proud. Went off to show his mom and dad and just beamed. Several hours later, he’d completed the number game and came back for his prize. He sought me out to show off a newspaper hat and to ask for the materials for another flexagon. I almost fell to pieces I was so happy.
What a powerful experience for that kid. He saw that he can do math, that if he worked he could accomplish something challenging, and his father saw him do it. I don’t have words for the joy this brings me. It was perfect. It was Math-on-a-Stick.
I love math-on-a-stick. Go. If you aren’t lucky enough to live in MN, come visit. Then move here. This place is the best.
Thank you to Christopher Danielson and all of the other wonderful people that make this happen.