In 1986, following a proclamation by President Ronald Reagan, a week was set aside as Mathematics Awareness Week. In this proclamation, the president referred to the importance of mathematics towards the “progress of economy and our society.” Then, in 1999, the celebration evolved and now April is designated as Mathematics Awareness Month. Celebrations and activities are held at the local school level to help increase the visibility of the field of math. Here are a few ideas for educators of all grade levels on how they can help their students celebrate this event.
- Institute a “problem-a-day” contest. Look through some of the challenging word problems in textbooks to find enough to give you a difficult question for each day. Consider giving something like a homework pass or extra credit to the student (or students) who get the most correct during the course of the month.
- Host a math game tournament—Let’s face it, kids love video games. And one of the hottest trends today in math education is the use of video games as a means of practicing math skills. What better way to celebrate Math Awareness Month than to host a game tournament with students competing head to head with the highest scores moving on for the title of Supreme Math Gamer.
- Invite a guest speaker to your class. Call local engineering or architecture firms or the math or science departments at the local college and ask them to come in and speak to your class on the importance of mathematics in their field. Many of these folks would love the opportunity to do some community outreach and also help promote their field. If possible, ask if there is a female member of their staff who can come speak as girls are still greatly under-represented in the mathematics field and need all of the role models they can get in this area. Before the speaker comes in, have the students generate questions that they can ask them.
- Plan a cross-curricular activity. Too often at the high school level, departments tend to stay very compartmentalized with little to no collaboration. But this would be a great opportunity to plan something on the history of mathematics, looking at famous mathematicians from Archimedes to John Forbes Nash. Also, this year’s election cycle had one clear-cut winner—the statisticians who were able to predict the elections. This would provide a great opportunity to have a cross-curricular lesson on polling data and statistics and how they were used in this year’s national elections.
- Find a connection with the real world. This year’s theme for Math Awareness Month is “Mathematics, Statistics, and the Data Deluge.” Show students how data impacts every aspect of their lives. Gaming systems use statistics for games; Facebook and Twitter also collect data that can be researched by the students. All of this can make for research presentations that the students can study and then bring back to the class.
- Study something out of the ordinary. There are lots of unusual topics in math that teachers normally don’t get to discuss such as the Fibonacci sequence, fractals, and chaos theory. This would be a great opportunity to expose your students to these ideas with short mini-lessons.
Regardless of how you celebrate, it is a great idea to do something this year to showcase Math Awareness Month. Careers in mathematics truly will lead the way in developing our economy. That is why it is important to give students of all grade levels and ability levels exposure to the ways that math impacts their lives.