Math students are notorious for asking the question: When will I ever use this? The answer isn’t simple, (or convincing to most teens) and has been known to keep math teachers up at night, at least I think it does, to be honest I have no idea if a math teacher even sleeps but I digress. The point is math is not exactly a “sexy” subject in the eyes of many K-12 students… until now.
The National Museum of Mathematics in New York City is attempting to change math’s image problem and make it cool to learn about. In conjunction with other math exhibits around the nation (side note: the National Museum of Mathematics is the only museum dedicated to the subject in the country), curators are inviting the public to look and think about math in a hands-on, fun way. Sounds awfully similar to what we do here at RobotsLAB with the BOX.
"Changing perceptions is our goal," said Cindy Lawrence, the co-executive director of MoMath speaking withEdweek.org. "From the minute people walk in the door, we try to highlight the creative side of math: that it's colorful, it's beautiful, it's exploratory, fun and engaging. None of these are words people typically associate with math."
From dancing in front of screens illustrating fractals to riding an oversize tricycle with square wheels on a bumpy track, MoMath is looking at how to explain complex equations in a way that is fun and engaging to young minds.
But do they understand how this connects to math?
Just because kids are interested in riding a square-wheeled tricycle does not mean that they understand the mathematical concept behind the exhibit. The curators at MoMath are aware that making sure the students learn is the top priority and is responding to feedback from visitors who have commented on the disconnection between the exhibit and the math behind it.
The museum was designed to create an interest in learning, not necessarily to teach or raise scores according to Lawrence. The main focus was to create exciting exhibits, it has been difficult to decide how much detail and mathematical explanation to provide.
"Just the fact that a kid might come into a place that says math on the front door and have fun, in my mind, that's score one," said Lawrence. "There is now an association with math and something fun."
Changing the culture
MoMath was created by Glen Whitney, a former hedge-fund analyst and now president and co-executive director of MoMath after the Gourdreau Museum of Mathematics in Art and Science closed a few years ago.
While the exhibits at MoMath weren't created around the common-core math standards, many do cover the concepts, and educators are helping teachers develop stronger links to the schoolwork with post-visit packets. Math teachers are excited to help the effort too. The National council of Teachers of Mathematics is working with the museum on an image campaign to entice older elementary and middle school kids about math, according to Linda Gojak, president of the NCTM.
Something must be done because many of our kids do not have a strong enough grasp on mathematics. According to a report from the National Center on Education and the Economy, many new college students are entering with middle-school level proficiency in math subjects. The report suggested that students are better off focusing on mastery of fundamentals like ratios and proportions. MoMath and other museums hope to change this
It’s not just New York…
MoMath is not just the only museum dedicated to reaching out to kids. The Exploratorium, Oregon Museum of Science and Industry and Science museum of Minnesota have all unveiled different exhibits to spark an interest in mathematics.
From the Geometry Playground at the Exploratorium to the Design Zone in OMSI, it’s clear that museums are trying very hard to reinvigorate an interest in math and hopefully make bring its sexy back.