For more information and insights into planning for a student-led family math night, be sure to see Wendy Pettis article A Student-Led Math Family Fun Night: Learning from the Planning Process.
Does the prospect of coordinating a student-led math event seem daunting? As the coordinator of my school's first Math Family Fun Night, I wish I could tell you that everything went off without a hitch. Overall the evening was quite a success, but my students and I identified several improvements for future Math Nights.
Here is our rough road map for future student-led Math Nights, along with the hope that these tips might prove useful as you begin to think about planning a student-led Math Family Fun Night at your school.
Your focus will be on supporting your students as they plan and lead the event, but first you'll need to determine your primary goal, who will be invited, and where and when the event will be held.
We called our evening Math Family Fun Night" for a reason: we wanted the emphasis to be on families exploring math together in fun ways. Even if you choose to include as part of the event information for parents on your school's approach to math education, you can involve your students in planning and leading that component of the evening in fun and creative ways.
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You don't need to put on a Math Night for the entire school. Perhaps one grade level could lead a Math Night for one other grade level and their families, or maybe one classroom of students could lead a Math Night for another class.
If you'd like to involve more grade levels, consider holding several smaller Math Family Fun Nights throughout the year. If students in the highest grade level lead a fall Math Night for students in the next lower grade level, then that grade level might lead a winter Math Night for students one grade lower, and the students in that grade level might lead a spring Math Night for students one grade lower still. Or students in one of the older grades might lead a second Math Night for younger students.
Families: optional or mandatory?
Will it be optional or mandatory for a parent to accompany each student? At our event, if a student's parents could not attend, we asked them to arrange for their child to be "adopted" by another family for the evening. We wanted to keep the focus on families having fun together. Although the majority of families stayed together throughout the evening, a number of parents socialized in the hallway while their children explored some activities without them. What's your policy? How will you let parents know your goals and expectations for the evening?
Remember, if one or more family members comes with each student, even when you attempt to keep things small, you might be surprised at how many people arrive for an evening of math fun. You might like families to sign up ahead of time so you can be sure you have enough room and activities to absorb the crowd.
Plan for a wide range of ages.
At our event, fourth graders led activities for third and fourth graders and their families. Siblings ranged in age from toddlers to high schoolers. Each student brought at least one parent. Our activities were planned primarily with third and fourth graders in mind, but we tried to include a range of activities that would be of interest to all ages.
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The school space(s) you select will influence what activities are possible.
Multi-purpose room: If your event is held in a large multi-purpose room, will the space be large enough to accommodate all the anticipated students and their families? Will there be too much noise and too many distractions for participants to hear instructions and focus on one activity at a time?
Classrooms: If you hold the event in a cluster of classrooms, each door can be shut to block out noise, limit the number of participants, and control access to games and activities requiring a common starting time. Each room can take on a different mood. Classroom computers can be used for individual or small group activities, or a roomful of participants can cooperate or compete using one computer and an LCD projector. Hanging a festive sign outside each room can add to the fun atmosphere of the evening.
The main challenge to holding the event in classrooms is that you cannot be everywhere at once, but if parents stand ready to help students, you can get by with a skeleton crew of teachers and administrators.
You might like to give each family a map of the activity locations along with a brief description of each activity.
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Save the date(s)!
It helps to get the Math Night(s) on your school calendar before the start of the school year. If thats not possible, provide families with plenty of advance notice and encourage them to save the date(s). Will you have sufficient planning time for a fall event? (We suggest starting to plan two months ahead of the event.) For a winter event, include a back-up date in case of inclement weather.
Daytime or evening?
Some schools prefer a daytime math carnival over an evening event. You'll have 100 percent participation from students, but it might be harder to make it a family event, and it might be a challenge to carve out enough space and time to hold such an event during school hours.
If yours will be an evening event, when will it start and end? Our evening ran from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. We took into consideration our large after-school program, families' need to eat dinner, the family focus (with young siblings included), and time for clean-up. A number of students wished we had been able to hold a longer event; there were so many fun activities to choose from, no one could come close to trying them all.
On the early side?
Will you be able to accommodate students who might need or wish to stay after school until the start of an evening event? Will families be expected to eat an early dinner before arriving or will healthful food be part of the evening fun?
You won't be able to handle everyone arriving all at once, and you'll be hoping not many will come late and miss part of the fun. How will you occupy families that arrive early? You might set up a slideshow in a large room, giving families a sneak preview of the activities and guidelines for how the evening will work, or display a slideshow or posters reflecting some of the active math learning taking place throughout the school year. You might open up one or two large rooms with a number of estimation jars so families can begin discussing math in fun ways before the student-led activities begin.
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