Brief Description of Promising Practice or Evidence-Based Innovation
MathHappens is a non-profit operating foundation. We design, build and staff math exhibits in the Austin Community and beyond. We are a site for the University of Texas internship program. The internship program is a work experience opportunity for preservice teachers so that they can earn money while in school doing relevant, meaningful work that develops personal and professional skills. Most jobs for math students are in tutoring, but Mathhappens offers an alternative. Students working for us learn to use a laser cutter to create and build new math models, they attend meetings and training with member institutions in the Austin Museum Partnership, they lead projects, staff special exhibits and field trips, present to teachers and administrators in private sessions and at conferences, and they interact with the general public.
There is a real and specific need for math to be understood in contexts and museums and cultural institutions can offer opportunities to make those connections in a compelling, engaging, and enjoyable way. But it is rare to have interest in or knowledge of math among musuem educators. Currently there is very little said about math in Art, History, Nature or even Science Museums. STEM events often lack math. Because MathHappens has been able to develop displays, exhibits and activities that teach math concepts in a new way, without paper and pencil and without video we can offer the museums high value activities for their visitors that are physical, interactive, and connected to existing museum themes and exhibit.
Preservice teachers who are students of math and science are highly qualified to do this work. There is a need for more math in the public conversation to combat math anxiety, foster interest and enthusiasm among students and their families, and provide an educational opportunity for learners of all ages and backgrounds.
Relevant Literature Reviewed, Similar Investigations, Background, and/or Impetus for Developing/Implementing the Innovation
The MathHappens Foundation came about because a family foundation wanted to support math education programming at museums in Austin TX, and there wasn’t any. Executive Director and co-founder, Lauren Siegel is a graduate of University of Chicago in Applied Mathematics, a University of Texas UTeach Graduate, has worked as a math teacher and administrator, and is currently serving as a UTeach Maker Mentor. Our work grounded in the same principles that underpin and guide the University of Texas UTeach Program where classes like Research Methods that demand rigor, creativity and application of the Scientific Method are taught alongside math classes like upper level Geometry and Functions and Modeling, social studies courses like Perspectives in History of Math and Science, and pedagogy courses like Knowing and Learning and Classroom Interactions with the capstone course being Project Based Instruction.
From current active researchers like Jo Boaler at Stanford, and innovators like the Museum of Math in New York along with a multitude of writers, researchers and colleagues in the teaching community we see that we need to change attitudes about math, offer more ways to learn and understand math, and employ best practices of museums and other kinds of educators to make math more accessible to learners of all ages and all levels.
These are slides from a recent presentation we gave to teachers and administrators at the UTeach STEM Educators conference making the case for math field trips. Inserted in the presentation are images from the previous evenings activity table at the Wildflower Center. The pictures help make the case for people being interested and engaged in an outdoor setting even with other attractions. Also these photos from an event at our Central Library (please scroll through the gallery).
Overview of Methods Used to Study the Promising Practice or Innovation
Our approach to MathHappens’ Mission has been to start with our Museum community through the Austin Museum Partnership, and with the Internship program at University of Texas. Once in communication with museum administrators and educators, we sought opportunities to contribute to events for the public. Our first project was for the Harry Ransom Center, an archive for rare manuscripts and collections. They wanted to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Alice In Wonderland by exhibiting their collection and offering an extensive suite of activities that included viewing of the collection, opportunities to create derivative art, a tea party, poetry readings and more. Mathhappens recreated models of math puzzles and ideas recorded and collected by Lewis Carroll including a coin trick puzzle, 64=65 puzzle, tangrams and a cipher code. What did we do? We introduced the activities area with an opportunity to make a “code name” tag using a cipher app called ABCipher which was custom made to show how word cipher codes work (there’s one in Lewis Carroll’s Commonplace book). With code nametag on, visitors could go on try the 64 = 65 puzzle in wood, do historic Tangrams in white rabbit and mad hatter designs and learn about Caroll’s habit of tracing a 6 pence coin (dime sized) on paper cutting it out and challenging a new aquaintance to put a half penny (quarter size) through the hole. We cut holes in paper with the laser cutter, purchased an 1885 sixpence and halfpenny and provided dimes and quarters. With UTeach students to facilitate, the activities were a huge success.
Going forward, we resolved to connect our math activities explicitly to the place and context. We use calipers that can show the Golden Ratio at the Nature and Science Center, facilitate a field trip using models of navigation tools at the history museum to connect to La Belle a 17th century sailing vessel, analyze survey chains and learn methods of measuring land as well as and learn contemporary slate lessons at Pioneer Farms. Libraries offer flexibility to approach any topic from gerrymandering to lunar motion.
The promising practice is to connect the math to the place, both interns of topic, specific content and physical environment, to provide a physical hands on model and an activity that offers ways to understand the concept as well as serve as a souvenir and springboard for sharing with family, friends and teachers.
Results of Investigation(s)
These are the following 4 opportunities:
- Use digital fabrication like laser cutters and 3d printers, and also employ communication techniques from the museum, theater and creative world to create positive rich and purposeful math activities that people enjoy.
- Recruit math students pursuing outreach opportunities and preservice teachers training in teaching programs like UTeach to create new materials, and interact with the public.
- Communicate to museums their value as cultural stewards and this opportunity to do good by exploring opportunities to connect math to their content, to offer math learning opportunities to visitors and to enhance and expand their own education programing in ways that complement their basic mission.
- Facilitate Math Field Trips. When museums have programming that includes math, math teachers will be able to take a field trip. All the usual reasons for field trips apply — they benefit the class through a shared experience that can anchor a variety of conversations and lessons in the classroom, they provide a bonding experience for teachers and students and create a positive memory.
Our results are related to the growing interest among schools and educators in providing off screen interactive family learning and the prevalence of maker space and ideas about the value of physical models. We are starting to connect with educators outside of Texas and finding interest and enthusiasm for our concepts is widespread.
This note we received from a librarian in Vallejo is a great result of our participation in MakerFaire Bay Area This is an underserved community and we are hopeful to have more opportunities to send them some math. We brought a large number of our materials to an event sponsored by Killeen public library. Attendees were very appreciative and shared that they don’t have access to these kinds of displays and ideas.
Austin Texas now has a Golden Ratio exhibit and a human sunclock in the Nature and Science Center which is free to visitors all year, we have had math field trips to the Texas State History Museum, the Austin Nature and Science Center, and the Ransom Center. There are Pythagorean tables in the side garden of the Neill Cochran House Museum and Pioneer farms offered a series of three math based activities at events this spring and installed a math based walking activity in the square. We are starting to connect with the community from homeschool groups to teacher groups, with repeat visits from families, and a portfolio of trust relationships with our informal education community. Mathhappens had math tables at five locations during last years Museum Day.
Greatest Achievement to Date
28 Interns over 5 years, 5 locations at Museum Day,
Greatest Challenge to Date
Pervasive Math Anxiety among administrators and program leaders
Link to Relevant Website, Further Information, or Article: https://www.mathhappens.org
High-Need Population(s) & Locations Served
- not necessarily high-need population served, as defined by the above federal definition criteria a-c
Principal Investigator(s): Lauren Siegel
Organizational Affiliation(s): Executive Director, MathHappens, University of Texas Maker Mento