Elementary students learn math in new, fun ways

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elementary students working on math games

Perhaps more than any other subject, math is often met with anxiety. Young students can decide they are simply "not a math person" and write off the memorization and calculation found standard in class as boring, or worse yet, scary. But what if more could be done to help developing minds find an appreciation for mathematics?

Such is the goal of Family Math Night, a nationwide initiative bringing kids and their families together around math in a hands-on environment. The UM-Flint Mathematics Department within the College of Arts and Sciences has hosted Family Math Night events for more than 25 years, inviting elementary students from across Michigan to campus. Historically, UM-Flint students studying math or elementary education facilitate activities for the young learners. During the next Family Math Night, taking place April 2, fifth-grade students from Mason Elementary in Grand Blanc will take the lead in sharing math with others.

Mason Elementary Teacher Jan Cornelison is a firm believer in helping her students learn outside of the classroom. "Activities like this are the best way to build skills such as critical thinking, collaboration, and communication," Cornelison explains. "These are the things kids remember … going to a university and feeling professional—it becomes a part of them."

Cornelison and her fifth graders paid a visit to campus on March 15, during which they worked with UM-Flint math and elementary education majors to select and practice the games they will help lead on April 2. With examples like 'math behind knots' and 'circular tic-tac-toe,' these activities go beyond the standard math concepts found in classrooms and help nurture the possibilities that exist within the subject—an undertaking Associate Professor Laura McLeman is passionate about.

Students from Mason Elementary visited campus to help choose and practice the games that would be used for Family Math Night.

"Mathematics is just a creative endeavor as art or music or any discipline. It's different, like music is different than art, but math is creative nonetheless," McLeman says. "As an institution of higher learning, UM-Flint has a responsibility to help demonstrate creative solutions in education."

Susan Gano-Phillips, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, sees events like Family Math Night as central to the mission of CAS.

"This event demonstrates the uniting power of the arts and sciences, bringing together UM-Flint students from different disciplines and the community," Gano-Phillips says. "The younger students who attend leave with a renewed passion for learning and a fresh perspective on critical thinking—ideals we foster every day in CAS."

Family Math Night takes place on April 2, 2019, from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. in the UM-Flint Michigan Rooms (first floor of the Harding Mott University Center). It is free and open to the public. For additional information email Daniel Coffield at dcoffiel@umflint.edu or call the Mathematics department at (810) 762-3244.

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