By Julie Slama | [email protected]
Second-grader Liam Johnson was at school all day, but that didn’t stop him from returning that evening. Alongside of him, were Trak Johnson and Natalie Brun.
Together, they helped him adhere colored square stickers onto a black sheet of paper. It looked like a building with colorful windows, and even more so like one, when it was posted alongside other second-graders’ papers. Yet, Liam counted, by twos, the number of windows he created on his building and recorded the number of each color window he had.
It was Alta View Elementary’s fourth annual math night, designed and prepared for second-graders to have time with their parents or guardians, as a chance to learn math activities that will help their skills, said second-grade teacher Tami Malan, who added each student received a bag with a set of cars, two dice and directions for 40 different math games they could play at home.
“The whole idea was to give the families things to go home and practice with math so that the kids can make growth and can feel successful in doing something that they’re learning and practicing math facts,” she said, about the idea she came up with years ago after having a frustrating week at school. “I came back to school Monday and told my team, ‘how about a math night?’ I had everything planned out. It’s such a fun thing, because it is just the kids and they’re excited because it was just mom and dad and no other siblings; it was just them.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic may have had an impact on all students’ learning, Malan said this night wasn’t aimed at catching up from that year, but rather it “is an emphasis we are trying, to bring our math scores up schoolwide.”
However, it wasn’t like sitting in desks, adding up sums. Alta View’s math night was in the school’s gym, which was set up with activities that go along with the second-grade curriculum. About 60% of the second-graders came to have an opportunity to estimate the number of candies in a jar; or adding numbers from five cards drawn from a deck to a roller coaster dice multiplication game where students would roll dice and multiply the two numbers. There also was a mental math strategy game where the object was to roll dice and try to get as close to 101 without exceeding it.
“It was just really fun to watch the families doing them and then, they took them home so now they have activities to do for math practice every night if they desire,” she said about the games they researched and collected over their teaching years.
Malan said one game, Roll the Dice, would challenge students against their parents, determining who could add up the six dice rolled fastest.
“It was just fun to watch and the parents were amazed how well the kids were doing and how quickly they were able to get it. The kids were excited and we had really good comments from the parents about how much fun it was for them to sit down and spend time with their kids.”
Brun, who played many of the games before with her daughter after attending a previous math night, said they plan to play them with Liam this year.
“Having the games at home or having a math box is something that we can pull out and play and have fun, yet know he is learning at the same time,” she said.
Liam’s father, Trak, said that he likes the simplicity of the games and the variety, instead of just reviewing flashcards that “may get kind of mundane.”
“Hearing that you’re playing math games sounds intimidating, but there’s actually simplicity in all these games,” Johnson said. “They’re all very unique and it just shows how just doing simple things like this really works with them to cognitively do the steps that are involved in mathematics without realizing that they’re doing it. They’re just playing a game as far as they’re concerned. And they’re (the games) very nice, simple, quick and easy. I like being able to have these as a way to take a break and play again. Then, it becomes a whole lot less intimidating that way.”
Liam remembers an Ancient Egypt game like “tic, tac, toe” that he played at math night where he moved his yellow game pieces along the nine dots, without skipping any spots, to create a row of yellow and to win.
“I like math sometimes, like easy math, but sometimes I don’t because it’s hard to do,” Liam said. “Then, I do it more, like these games, and I get better at it, and it becomes easy and it’s just fun.”