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Strength in numbers

Reed Horton ’19 plays math bingo with a Summit Drive Elementary School student and his family during Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math Night.

Math Professors Casey Hawthorne and John Harris want their students to know that math is more than Xs, Ys and Zs.

So during April, they took 64 students from three classes to share projects of their own making with children and teenagers in the community.

The first event was a Math Fair at Travelers Rest High School, which drew hundreds of high school students for lessons and activities with Furman students in the high school media center. Dozens of families spent time with Furman students at the second event, a Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM) night at Summit Drive Elementary School in Greenville.

Travelers Rest High School students practice Euler’s Formula using marshmallows during a recent Math Fair with Furman University students at the Travelers Rest High media center.

Some students enrolled in Finite Mathematics (MTH 110) are nervous about taking math classes at Furman, often due to previous struggles with mathematics in high school, explained Math Professor John Harris.

Hawthorne and Harris challenged students to work in groups, selecting topics and then becoming “experts” on those topics. Teams created posters and shared their research through brief presentations and small group activities.

“We wanted to introduce them to some interesting mathematical ideas, help to develop their critical thinking skills, increase their appreciation for mathematics in general, and build (and repair) their confidence in their own abilities,” said Harris.

Anna Hoffman ’19, Tim Nutter ’17 and Sheldon Roper ’17 chose knots and links as the topic of their project, then pondered how they could make the subject interesting for high school students.

Their answer came from a “human knot,” a common team-building activity that allowed every group of high schoolers coming by to get involved in the group’s presentation.

Travelers Rest High School students attempt to untangle their human knot as part of an interactive math project with Furman students Anna Hoffman ’19, Tim Nutter ’17 and Sheldon Roper ’17.

“We wanted to answer the question of how this would benefit a person in real life,” said Hoffman, a communication studies major from Atlanta. “I did not expect students’ responses to be this positive.”

Travelers Rest High School teacher Rick Veazey brought students in his probability and statistics classes to the Math Fair.

“This was a good idea,” Veazey said. “These are topics that many of my students have never seen before and they’re learning from students who aren’t math majors. It’s good for them to know that college math is not just a rehash of what they’ve done in high school.”

For the 18 students in Hawthorne’s Mathematics for Elementary School Teachers I class (MTH 301), their trip to Summit Drive Elementary was a preview of what they will be doing on a daily basis as future educators. Student projects ranged from activities teaching place value systems with Mayan numbers to mathematically determining combinations with teddy bears.

“During planning, I encouraged students to think about the mathematics in more conceptual ways, helping them to plan for activities that went beyond procedures that got answers and truly engaged children in mathematical thinking,” said Hawthorne. “With parents participating, I hope Furman students would see parents as a critical part of the learning process and as such might reflect on ways they can productively incorporate them in their planning and instruction.

“Having a whole night devoted to mathematics in a positive light really celebrates mathematics and mathematical thinking,” said Hawthorne, who is planning a second Math Night at Summit Drive Elementary with MTH 301 students next spring.

Learn more about the Department of Mathematics at Furman.


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