While some kids are whiling away the summer hours playing in Little League tournaments or going to summer camps, others are spending their summers in a completely different way: inside, doing math.
Families were invited to participate in various math-related activities at the Yolo County Library on Sunday, including building marble pyramids and cube towers. The workshop was led by Chelsea Ransom Le, a math educator who has taught in settings including elementary classrooms and Davis High School.
In addition, each table had one or two UC Davis student volunteers to answer questions or talk through the problems with workshop participants.
“Sometimes you learn about things by talking them through,” Le said.
Nathan Sweet, 12, said that he was having fun working through the problems. Although Sweet had done math workshops at Merryhill Elementary School, the workshop on Sunday was the first one he had done through the city.
“This is a great exercise,” said Haiyong Li, whose 5 1/2-year-old son, Randy, attended the workshop. “He hasn’t really gotten the mathematical ideas yet, but he can see the patterns.”
Le explained that she organized the workshop out of a love for math, and especially math education. She added that many people have an aversion to math and that she, as a math educator, wishes to make math accessible to a wide audience.
“A lot of times people say, ‘I’m not good at math’ or ‘Oh, this person’s good at math,’ but the problem with this way of thinking is that our self-perceptions entirely influence our way of thinking and our performance,” Le said. “What I love about math education is making it accessible and engaging to a wide audience … in other words, making it fun.”
She later added, “When people are having fun, they’re not thinking about, ‘Am I good at this’ or ‘Can I do this or not?’ ”
Le also noted that the various hands-on activities in the workshop were designed for a wide range of ages. Younger kids, she explained, learn to start counting by numbers other than one and develop skills in spatial and visual development. Other, more experienced students learn skills including taking a non-numerical models and applying numbers to the model, she said.
In addition to designing activities for a wide audience, Le also made sure to organize a workshop that was open-ended and inquiry-driven.
“Math is not about knowing how to solve problems,” she said. “It’s a tool for solving problems, and helps us look at things systematically. Making the (workshop) interactive and inquiry-driven is a way of using the math and thinking mathematically while having fun.”
Le hopes to organize a math workshop every month for the next year. The next workshop will run from 2 to 3 p.m. Aug. 18 at the Explorit Science Center, 3141 Fifth St. This workshop will be run in conjunction with Explorit. Participants will be working to see how many symmetric polyhedra they can make and will have the opportunity to attend a fundraiser at 3 p.m. for $5. There will also be another workshop from 10:15 a.m. to noon on Sept. 21 in the Blanchard Room in the Stephens Branch Library.
“Math is a language that has particular uses for describing, organizing and helping us understand our world,” Le said. “As with any language development, we learn it by using it.”