Students introduce innovative ways to make math fun

When it comes to learning math in a classroom setting, the ‘fun factor’ can be a challenge.

But through an innovative final project for a recent Brock Mathematics Integrated with Computers and Applications (MICA) course, five aspiring math teachers aimed to tackle the problem.

Their solution involved explaining math as a key component of processes like coding, then reinforcing the message through engaging, coding-based activities that were explicitly or implicitly about mathematics.

With a focus on experiential learning, Brock students Marika Fowler, Kirstin Hofstee, Joyce Khouzam, Ashley Lovnicki and Xingjian Wu worked in collaboration with Niagara Catholic District School Board teachers to develop learning activities for students using computer programming.

Front row, from left, George Gadanidis, guest speaker from the University of Western Ontario, Chantal Buteau, Brock Professor of Mathematics and Statistics, and student presenter Joyce Khouzam. Back row, from left, Jeff Martin and Laura Cronshaw, Niagara Catholic K-12 Numeracy Consultants, and student presenters Ashley Lovnicki, Marika Fowler, Kirstin Hofstee and Xingjian Wu.

The partnership is part of the MATH 3P41 course, designed for future teachers and taught by Professor of Mathematics and Statistics, Chantal Buteau.

The collaborative initiative with Niagara Catholic falls under, and is partially funded by, the Ontario Ministry of Education’s Mathematics Knowledge Network, for which Buteau is a Brock representative.

For third-year Concurrent Education (Intermediate/Senior) student Lovnicki, the project provided an opportunity to experience the future of math education firsthand.

“Right now is a very exciting time to be a part of mathematics education,” she said. “As we saw through the various projects completed in this course, adding programming is a great way to make math fun and engaging for students, regardless of age, attitudes toward math or students’ ability.”

The 20-year-old Stoney Creek native was tasked with showing students different ways math can be applied to their everyday lives. Lovnicki paired up with a Niagara Catholic teacher to present their learning activity with no mention of the math concepts students would be using. Instead, the focus was on a coding-based task.

“I was amazed at how much fun the students had doing math without even realizing they were,” she said. “The activity gave them the opportunity to see how math can be used in different areas of their lives, including computer games and apps. It was a really rewarding experience.”

Knowing that many students struggle with math concepts, Khouzam was strategic when presenting her learning activity to a junior class.

“We revealed to students that they were innately doing math throughout the activity,” the 21-year-old said. “The students were noticeably more confident after this and even started using math vocabulary in their conversations during the activity.”

Buteau views the MATH 3P41 course, and its experiential learning final project, as a response to increasing interest in integrating programming in school curricula. Extending the expertise of Brock’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics, the course offers students a chance to experience the meaningful integration of programming for mathematics learning in a real classroom setting.

“One of the great things about Brock is the various opportunities students have to get involved in various streams of experiential learning,” Lovnicki said.

“This course in particular was very exciting, as it was one of the first chances I had in the classroom where I got to lead students and teach them a new concept. I feel that this was a true benefit as it gave me not only the chance to work closely with a current teacher, but it also helped me to develop my lesson planning and teaching abilities.”

Along with preparing and executing their learning activities, students also created a document outlining how other teachers can implement the projects into their own classrooms.

The concepts generated positive buzz during the first-ever Brock-Niagara Catholic Computational Thinking in Mathematics Classroom event in April, when Brock students presented their final project findings to fellow students, Niagara Catholic K-12 Numeracy Consultants, DSBN technology co-ordinators, and Brock faculty and staff.

Hofstee felt the enthusiasm for the concepts was associated with the move away from traditional math memorization methods.

“Using programming, this method helps build a deeper understanding of math concepts that will help students remember what they learn rather than memorizing a method for a short period of time,” said the Guelph native. “Additionally, computational thinking is not just a math skill, but teaches transferable skills.”

After seeing the innovative approach’s success among Niagara Catholic students, the Brock students plan to implement what they’ve learned into their own future classrooms.

“This course really opened my eyes to the possibilities of programming in math education,” Khouzam said. “This assignment was definitely the best final experience I’ve had in university.”

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