Last Thursday, Green Bank Elementary-Middle School hos-ted the county’s first Math Night event, a collaboration between the Green Bank Observatory and the school system, to strengthen the math skills of both students and parents.
GBO STEM educator Sophie Saint Georges trained with the West Virginia After School Network to bring Math Night to Pocahontas County. She explained that the goal of the program is to show students that they can all be math people, they just need to get in the mindset that math is a strength for them.
“We wanted to teach all children and their families that math is something for everybody,” she said. “The way that we’re teaching math now is to try different methods and different approaches and to keep trying until the right answer is obtained – not to follow a strict set of rules that should get you the right answer every time.
“If you don’t understand the rule, that’s never going to make sense,” she added. “So we really want these kids and families to make math make sense to them.”
The program began with Saint Georges addressing the students – first through third graders – and their families. She explained that it is important to have a positive mindset when working with math and try not to discourage yourself if you are having an issue with a problem.
“We want to confront this idea of who’s good at math,” she said. “We want to get away from that and say all of you are good at math. Some of you are going to try different ways to be good at math. That’s all really about our attitude. That’s what we call a growth mindset. If I say, ‘I’m not good at this, yet,’ that, to me, is expressing a growth mindset.
“Our attitudes matter,” she continued. “If we go into anything in life thinking, ‘I’m not going to be good at this,’ then it’s not going to work out so great for us. But if we go into life thinking, ‘I might not be good the first time, but I will get there,’ that’s really a lot of what we want to see.”
The students shared their enthusiasm with learning math and went through several examples of a growth mindset with Saint Georges.
“It’s been shown that if you do well in math now, you’re going to do well in math your whole life because you’re learning really important skills right now,” she told the students. It’s shown that kids who are successful in math in elementary school through high school, through college, are really paid more because their jobs might be more important or more difficult.”
Pocahontas County Schools math coach Joanna Burt-Kinderman echoed that sentiment, saying the county has by grown leaps and bounds in mathematics, and the students have shown they are math people.
“I want to tell you this because I’m super proud of it,” she said.
“Before COVID, Pocahontas County was in the top four high schools for math in the entire state. And our scores are just as good as Massachusetts. I don’t say that lightly because guess what – we don’t pick the kids we test. We don’t only compete against Single A schools. We’re talking about against every high school in the whole state. We’re amongst the best and we will be number one.
“These folks are going to do it,” she said, gesturing to the students.
Burt-Kinderman shared her gratitude with the GBO and the parents who were in attendance for participating in the program to help the students have success in math.
“I want to give big thanks to Green Bank Observatory for being such beautiful partners to us,” she said. “Every single time you guys are here, our kids and teachers are happier and when we’re happier, we learn more.
“Thank you for being here,” she added, addressing the parents. “There’s a real thought sometimes that parents don’t want to get involved in the academic part of school and only show up for sports and you guys are proving that that’s not true. We can’t do it without you, so thank you so much for being here and please be learners and have this growth mindset with us.”
Burt-Kinderman added that she is organizing a Pocahontas County Schools math Facebook page and welcomed everyone to join it to stay connected virtually. She said she would like to keep the lines of communication open and said, sometimes, online is the easiest way to keep the conversation going.
After introductions to the program, the students and parents were divided into three groups and were sent to classrooms to participate in math games.
“The whole night is really focused around different activity stations,” Saint Georges said. “These are different games that the families are going to be playing together that are oriented around dice and adding numbers, as well as number sequences. The goal is really to play these games that are also inspiring techniques and seeing that people think about math differently and are going to be doing the adding differently from one person to another.”
Saint Georges said she hopes to introduce the program at the other elementary schools in the county and plans to work with fourth through sixth graders in the spring with another Math Night.
“There’s different games and activities for families to do based on age range, so some of the future events that we can look forward to are making change and looking at a budget and ordering off a menu with the budget you have,” she said. “There’s an activity for measurements, as well, which a lot of people don’t think about as math, but we do it all the time when we’re woodworking or even moving a piece of furniture.”
Measurement can be a difficult part of math to visualize and Saint Georges said this is a perfect example of how each individual will approach the problem differently. As a rock climber, she uses her knowledge in cliff heights to help her visualize measurements.
“I can picture what a forty-foot cliff looks like, even if it’s harder for me to picture what forty-feet away might be,” she said. “So, what I do in my mind is literally take a forty-foot cliff and lay it down and see if I think that’s about the right distance.
“It’s that practice – using what I have experience with – that’s what makes sense for my brain,” she continued. “If you drive in a car a lot, you might start thinking about distances like, ‘could I fit my car in this parallel parking space’ or something like that.”
Saint Georges does not know the exact dates for upcoming Math Night events, but will share them with the schools to ensure students and parents will attend.