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Math Night By the Numbers

Is it time for a "Math Night" at your school? Math Night gets students excited about math, familiarizes parents with the math curriculum, and encourages families to continue the fun of math at home! Included: Advice from organizers of Math Nights at schools across the country.

"I am always amazed at how involved the parents get in the games and activities during math night," Barbara Kelly told Education World. "Every year we have at least one parent who does not want to leave when it is over!"

Students become pirates and more as they engage in games with the theme "Peter Pan in Mathland"!

Kelly, a sixth grade teacher, attended a conference offered by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and brought back the concept of "math night." During their first evening of math activities, she and her peers at Churchill Road School in McLean, Virginia, dressed up as characters from "The Mathematical Wizard of Oz." After receiving an enthusiastic response to this initial math night, Kelly and first grade teacher Cheryl Bamdad decided to continue it next year, this time with their own original theme -- "Mission Possible."

"We publicize math night in our school newsletter beforehand and afterwards," explained Bamdad. "Those who missed it may then think about it next time. We make a very flashy bulletin board advertising it. The kids watch it being made and get very excited. We also offer the kids who attend a night off from homework. Individual teachers hype it up too."



Bamdad and Kelly alternate years for their math nights; one year will be for primary grade students and parents, the next year for the upper grades. They select the games and puzzles each math night will include and prepare all of the materials. Teachers man the activities, which are set up in the gymnasium. This year some eighth graders also ran math games so that teachers were able to mingle and observe more of the activities. The focus is not "normal" classroom activities but on using manipulatives, logic, and strategy. Theme is an essential component to a Churchill Road math night.

"We like themes because they tie the activities together and provide a hook to get kids interested," said Bamdad. "It's also a fun challenge for us to figure out how to tie a game into a theme. Some of our games are quite a stretch!" Themes Bamdad and Kelly have used include:

Kindergarten to Grade 3 Themes

  • The Mathematical Wizard of Oz
  • Alice in Math Wonderland (playing cards)
  • Going Buggy Over Math (insects)
  • Math Is BIG Stuff (dinosaurs, whales, monster trucks, etc.)
  • Peter Pan in Mathland (crocodiles and pirate ships)

Grade 4-6 Themes

  • Mission Possible (spy theme)
  • Strategenie: Back in Time (strategy games tied to social studies with a genie -- the physical education instructor -- who was like Aladdin and loved math)
  • The Adventures of the Pirates of Mathland

"Pick something that might interest kids," Bamdad advised. "We often choose something related to a movie all of the kids know. We also pick something for which we know we can find good manipulatives. One thing usually leads to another. When we planned Going Buggy Over Math, it was amazing to discover all of the many kinds of bugs that were available!


A student and parent play "Goldfish Estimation."

"Our students and their parents love math night. We are always showered with thanks and compliments. Parents and kids are always asking where they can get the same games. They beg us to do one every year. We now try to buy a few commercial games and then give them to teachers to use in the classrooms following our math nights."

Bamdad's favorite math night resources are Family Math and Nimble With Numbers, which is available for various grade levels. Kelly uses AIMS publications to gather ideas for many of her math night activities.

Kelly is constantly checking out the latest games and puzzles and invites other schools to give math night a try. "Just do it!" she recommends. "Jump in and start small at first, it can grow each year -- and it will!

"I have helped schools do family math nights that occur during the school day for those schools that don't like to have nighttime activities. Fewer parents attend, but the children still benefit. I also helped one school present a math night in English and Spanish so they could reach a population that doesn't normally attend such activities. Smaller schools can do K-6 all together. This activity is very flexible."




Teacher Barbara Kelly works with students and parents during a math night at Churchill Road Elementary.

Principal Linda Torres is a newcomer to "math night." Her school, Baker Middle School, in Denver, Colorado, recently held its first math night, which was among the first of its kind to be organized at the middle school level in the school district.

"Our students struggle with math, and we wanted parents to have firsthand experience and information about our program," she stated. "Teachers in the math program at Baker as well as district math specialists were present at the event."

As part of the evening's activities, students presented "investigations" to parents that they themselves had solved in class. They facilitated the activity for the parents as the parents worked to solve the problems. Teachers worked with the students ahead of time and also supported them on the night of the event. To enable all parents to join in the activities, eighth grade students provided babysitting services, and pizza and drinks were served to the attending families.

"We want our families to understand and participate in math activities that their students are learning," said Torres. "The Connected Mathematics Program presents information in a much different format that the way we adults learned math in school. Math problems are presented in contexts of real-life problems to be solved. Students work collaboratively in groups to generate solutions."

The key to good attendance for math night, Torres suggests, is advertising. She encourages schools to publicize the event well in advance and right up to the day it will occur. Another math night is planned at Baker that will include incoming fifth graders and their parents.




Two girls diagram with a flair as they check out "Mermaid Venns."

"I was very pleased to see parents actively engaged with their children, and the children truly enjoying the games and activities," said Arlene Thies. "It shows us that children don't always need television or computer games to have fun."

Thies is academy program coordinator and math coordinator at Sligo Creek Elementary School in Silver Spring, Maryland. This is the fourth year for math night at the school, and it began as an effort to reach more parents from the school's diverse population. The goal was to show parents, guardians, and children that math is fun and that it isn't reserved for school or homework -- math has a connection to everyday life!

The math night activities are grouped by grade level and held in separate rooms. The evening begins with a math-related story. After the story and discussion, teacher volunteers present a math activity that families can do together. Next, participants play a game that they then take with them. At a math night in October, families were given two additional take-home activities that extended the learning experience for the children.

"Math night is a lot of work and time and takes advance planning, so start early," Thies advises others. "After the last math night, one little first-grade boy stopped me in the hall to tell me how much fun he had at math night. That's what all of our hard work is about -- the joy of children discovering that learning is fun."


A Student-Led Math Family Fun Night: Learning from the Planning Process
A Math Family Fun Night planned and led by students presents wonderful learning opportunities for students (and teachers, too!). Take a peek as fourth-graders prepare for their school's first Math Family Fun Night.

A Student-Led Math Family Fun Night: The Logistics
Wendy Petti provides a rough road map for student-led Math Nights, and 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.

A Family Math Night Led By Students
Math Cats creator Wendy Petti provides a printable Word document contained questions for planning a student-led family math night as well as activity ideas for the event.


Article by Cara Bafile