Math adds up to good time plus learning

December 3, 2010

Laughter rolls out in peals and waves from the room on the second floor of University Hall on the Indiana State University campus.

It may seem incongruous as the room is dedicated to math.

"Wherever we are and teaching mathematics, there's a lot of laughter," Marylin Leinenbach, associate professor of elementary education, said. "The two haven't been known to go together."

That fun and mathematics could be paired stems from the three women sitting at the table in Indiana State's Center for Math Education. Leinenbach along with Liz Brown, associate professor of mathematics, and Patty Butwin, chairperson of the center's advisory board, have worked together to move their students and math beyond the university classroom into Vigo County and the Wabash Valley.

"What flows through here is the belief of Indiana State," Leinenbach said.

"And in the Wabash Valley and Vigo County, they are making a difference," Butwin said.

As a stone hitting water sends forth waves from its impact so do different programs extend from the Center for Math Education to Vigo County public school students and beyond. The goal of the center and those who run is simply to assist math learning throughout the area.

"Really, it's about a ripple effect," Butwin said.

"It helps ISU students. It helps children. It helps teachers," Brown said of the center.

That assistances comes from adding together the programs of Go Figure to M2 for Girls to SMART, which then equals fun and learning for Vigo County elementary and middle school students.

In Go Figure, Indiana State students teach math through sports, poetry and more at the Terre Haute Children's Museum. Katelynn Moats a junior elementary education major from Terre Haute, helped develop the first Go Figure program held earlier this year. Seventeen Indiana State students work as docents preparing and teaching lessons around common themes.

"It is such a privilege to have the opportunity to have many individuals' insight on the program," Moats said.

"It gets our students more involved in lessons and the project in addition to delivering the materials," Butwin said.

Jesse Murphy, a freshman from West Terre Haute plans to make math education his major after his experience with Go Figure.

"It's a great way to show kids that math is not always boring but that it can be fun as well," he said. "We like to show the kids the fun side of math with all of our activities."

Marissa Goins, a freshman math education major from Clarksville, Tenn., enjoys working with Go Figure because it takes math concepts many of the children have seen and presents them in new ways. It also brings attention to the museum.

"I believe that the Terre Haute Children's Museum is a wonderful addition to this community and my volunteering a little bit of my time every week to help, it helps the museum gain attention and interest from families," she said.

M2 (Mathematics and Mentoring) for Girls brings together women majoring in math and female middle school students with an interest in math. Currently, 12 middle school girls interact and learn mathematics from the college women.

"We're having a good time," said Brown. "We're building community among the girls and ISU women. We're just showing them math is interesting, fun and applicable and that girls can do math. It's more than they're getting in school. It's about thinking, exploring and creating."

Caitlyn East, a freshman pre-medicine major from Huntingburg, learned of the M2 program from seeing an article about it. She spoke with Brown during the summer about participating and joined this fall.

"I think girls start to lose interest in mathematics in middle school for a few reasons, and then don't really apply themselves to it when fundamental concepts are taught," East said. "This program helps show girls that math, although tough sometimes, can still be really fun."

Jessica Markle, a junior math and math education major from Linton, said sometimes children are intimidated by math and that in the past females were not interested in it.

"Through M2 I have been able to witness a rapidly growing confidence in all of the girls involved," she said. "Also, not only are the girls increasing their understanding of math, but they are also making new friendships with other girls from different middle schools."

Vigo County elementary to high school students receive math help through the SMART (Student Mathematical AfteR school Tutoring) program. Four Indiana State students tutor 15 elementary to high school students who are having trouble understanding math. While a fee is charged for the tutoring, scholarships are also available.

"This is a very safe place," Leinenbach said about the center where the tutoring takes place.

Many Indiana State students also get experience in their future careers of teaching, although many of the students participating in the programs come from majors other than education.

"I'm seeing the foundation they (Leinenbach and Brown) did is blossoming and how the students are using what they've been taught and interpreting what they've been taught and taking it down to children's levels," Butwin said.

"We are pleased with the opportunities we are providing our ISU students to prepare them for their communities and their schools," Brown said.

Though East doesn't plan to enter teaching for a career, she said that being involved in M2 helps her also.

"With so many methods of solving problems, and more being developed, it's hard to keep up with which way is ‘easiest' or ‘faster,'" she said. "I have already learned some new theories with the girls as well as being refreshed on some others that I had forgotten from high school."

The center's math library also provides books, games, calculators and more that pre-service teachers as well as Vigo County teachers may check out and use in their classrooms. The available books infuse math with diversity, science, democracy, social economics and geography.

"With the plethora of math manipulatives and hands-on activities, pre-professional students, professors and even Vigo County teachers from the area are welcome to use the center as an educational tool for their teaching," said Russell Dedeaux III, a senior elementary and special education major from Fort Wayne.

"With math, the whole world is just open," Leinenbach said.

"These are physical items that kids can touch and move and explore to help them understand math," Leinenbach said. "It helps bridge the gap between the abstract and the concrete."

Brown and Leinenbach also have their own work in the Wabash Valley. Thanks to two $100,000 grants from the U.S. Department of Education, the two professors are working with middle school and high school teachers teaching algebra. One grant focuses on Vincennes schools and the second is for the five school corporations in Parke and Vermillion counties.

"It's a time for teachers who don't have time to talk about practice to exchange ideas with other teachers," Brown said. "It forces them to carve out time to do needed things and to reflect on their teaching in a completely different environment."

During the first year of the two-year grants, Leinenbach with middle school and Brown with high school teachers help teachers create project and learning centers that allow their students to learn math in fun, engaging ways. In the second year, Brown and Leinenbach evaluate the success of the products with the students.

"The work that we did is paying off, not just with teachers but with the children," Brown said about the Vincennes project, which is in its second year.

The Parke and Vermillion county project is in its first year.

"It has a different flavor, but it's working," Leinenbach said.

Each program and outreach leads back to the center and its focus.

"ISU's Center for Math Education is committed to the community," Leinenbach said.

"When we see a need, we try to fill it," Butwin added.

"It's people working together, working across colleges and the community," Brown said.

And it's done with fun.

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/1068658339_BGra6-D.jpg
Marylin Leinenbach, Patty Butwin and Liz Brown pose in the Center for Math Education in Indiana State University's University Hall. ISU Photo/Tony Campbell

Writer: Jennifer Sicking, Indiana State University, associate director of media relations, at 812-237-7972 or jennifer.sicking@indstate.edu