Family Math Night celebrates 10 years at GVSU
Each semester, future elementary teachers taking MTH 221 (Mathematics for Elementary Teachers I) participate in a Family Math Night event at a local elementary school. These students work with a partner to create an engaging, hands-on activity that they use with elementary children and their families at an evening event. Children and their families explore geometry, measurement, patterning, data, and probability through such activities as making 3d structures out of toothpicks and marshmallows, playing an M&M probability game, or making growing and repeating patterns using shapes. GVSU students plan extensions and modifications for their activity so that any child in attendance can participate in their activity (including pre-school aged younger siblings).
Now in their 10th year at GVSU, Family Math Nights were first implemented in 2004 and were loosely based on similar Math Night events sponsored by the University of Michigan-Flint. These events have been held at elementary schools throughout the West Michigan area, including Grand Rapids, Allendale, Jenison, Hudsonville, Wyoming, Holland, and Grand Haven, and are now an intrinsic part of the MTH 221 experience. Professor Sue Cooley states, “I would never want to teach MTH 221 without the Family Math Night experience! The benefits to our students are many: a chance to design an activity base on math standards that will please kids; interaction with parents, teachers, fellow students, and children; and discovering whether or not they truly want to be teachers. To be able to do all this in a course so early in their education is invaluable. Our students certainly get as much out of the Family Math Night experience as the children do!”
Dr. Dave Coffey appreciates Family Math Night because it gives him a chance to watch GVSU students work directly with children. He explains, “Sometimes students who are so shy and quiet in class really come out of their shell during Family Math Night. They are doing what they feel called to do—work with kids…I always walk away feeling as though Family Math Night has been a success because our students got to do some of the work of teachers—job-embedded learning.”
Not only is Family Math Night a positive learning experience for GVSU students, it is also a beneficial experience for the elementary children and their families and the local schools. Professor Tarah Tiedt notes, “the children learn that math is fun and enjoy a fun night of mathematics activities, the teachers obtain well-thought out, standards-based, developmentally appropriate math lessons, and parents gain insight into ways to do math at home and make it fun.” In fact, each Family Math Night activity includes a handout for families to take home with ideas for ways to continue their math explorations on their own.
Erin Steptoe, a current GVSU student seeking elementary certification recently completed a Family Math Night event as a part of her MTH 221 experience. She also participated in Family Math Night events when she herself was in elementary school. She fondly remembers these experiences, stating, “When I was a student, I always looked forward to Family Math Night. It was fun to experience math in a different, fun way that never seemed like work. It always felt like I was playing a game…Now as a college student in hopes of becoming a teacher, I still found Family Math Night to be a fun learning experience. It made me think and adapt to situations on the spot. I got to really see how students solve problems and their thinking process behind it.”