It was Friday night, and a classroom in NDSU’s Minard Hall was filled with excited children and their parents.
The kids moved from booth to booth—fishing math problems out of blow-up pools for Math Bingo, playing tic-tac-toe on cylinders, figuring how many different patterns they could create from colored candies and decorating little paper triangles to contribute to a giant snowflake forming on the wall.
The NDSU faculty and students running the Math Fair had two messages: Math can be interesting, and you can do it.
One girl clearly got the messages. She walked up to a table covered with colorful tiles and started fitting them together. Within minutes, she created an intricate star pattern.
“Now here is a math talent,” said Dogan Comez, professor of mathematics. He encouraged the girl to expand her pattern—tessellation is the math term for it—and she did. Easily. Without self-consciousness.
Moments like that one were success. That is what faculty and students wanted for the 1,000 local children they reached during a two-week period before the Math Fair.
The events were organized by associate professor Mariangel Alfonseca. From April 6 to 17, the department visited 51 classrooms at eight local elementary and middle schools with games and activities that used mathematical concepts. Then they invited local kids in grades K-6 to campus for the Math Fair.
They geared their outreach to elementary and middle school students because kids in that age group are at a critical time in their development. By about fifth grade, they can be soured on math if they hear negative messages or have discouraging experiences, said Benton Duncan, associate professor and chair of the NDSU Department of Mathematics. The lack of interest or confidence inhibits students from pursuing higher levels of math, which ultimately affects the workforce and medical, scientific and technological advancement.
That night at the Math Fair, the kids were all smiles as they turned in their completed activity cards. Each child left with a gift, such as a sliding rule or bookmark.
“Mom, do you know how to solve this?” a second-grade boy asked. He held the Rubik’s cube an NDSU student gave him to take home.
“No,” she said.
“That’s OK. I’ll show you.”