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Matt Bowling


"Unlike writing or reading, math always has a correct answer and an incorrect answer," Matt Bowling told Education World. "That can be the beauty and frustration of the subject. I thought I could turn the challenge of right answers into an advantage by making it a journey in which students have to pass many quests."

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By adding fun stories to a tale he wrote about proceeding through the second grade math curriculum, Bowling makes it possible for students to view using the math theyve learned as "winning." For some students at Duveneck Elementary School in Palo Alto, California, conquering math challenges in the usual fashion is more than enough incentive to keep them motivated, but others thrive on the excitement of the journey Bowling calls Mathworld.

The second grade curriculum is a journey full of "quests" in Matt Bowling's Mathworld.

"I created Mathworld to make math more fun, and for the kids to see the year's curriculum as an adventure," Bowling explained. "I felt that, of all the subjects, math had the potential to be the dullest for some kids. They seem to wilt as the year goes on, math subject after math subject."

Mathworld is the story of a student who falls into a math worksheet and lands in a fantasy world of math. Bowling's students encounter Fraction Fires, a Forest of the Plusses, and more, as they travel through 15 "lands." Each land contains a "quest" -- a quiz that evaluates if students are able to pass a grade-level test for the unit. Conquering the quest permits students to move on to the next level (unit) of "play."

Students face challenges in "lands" like the "Forest of the Pluses."

"We journey as a group, and we all move together through the lands as a group," said Bowling. "I make sure everyone passes the quests. If students are struggling, I see that in pretests, and I vow to keep working with them until they can pass."

Kids are so taken with the tales of Mathworld that former students often ask current ones about their progress. "Where are you guys? Did you pass the Garden of Friendly Numbers?" Bowling overhears.

An important aspect of Mathworld is that the approach builds confidence in math skills. When students feel challenged, Bowling points to a map of the lands and reminds them of the material theyve already mastered. The goal is to reach the "Castle of Third Grade."

"Mathworld also gives students a sense all year of where theyre going," Bowling added. "They all see the map every day and know whats coming next. Many visit our class Web site and read the stories ahead of time because they get very excited about what is on tap."

The goal is to reach the "Castle of Third Grade."

Mathworld works especially well for students who are turned off by conventional math activities, and for advanced students who enjoy an extra challenge, says Bowling. His hope is to one day publish the story. For him, this framework for exploring math is an outlet for his abundant creativity. Bowling believes that sharing his own original, creative work encourages students to take risks and share their ideas more freely.

"I think my creativity shows up in Mathworld, and I think my students' creativity shows up in our Model City Community project," observed Bowling. "In it, I provide the initial idea, but then they take over and make it come alive. I think they see my creativity and they say, 'Oh, so this teacher thinks this is okay,' and the child's natural playful, imagination takes over."

Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
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